No-one expects much from a Sunday morning concert, especially from one of the leads of an ongoing opera. The eruption of tightly focussed, hugely energetic bravura singing from rising countertenor Filippo Mineccia took the audience by surprise. A program of arias written for the 18th century castrato Gaetano Berenstadt was totally thrilling, supported by exemplary playing by I Turchini di Antonio Florio. The items included mostly unfamiliar works, such as arias from the 1717 version of Handel’s Rinaldo and works by Lotti, Gasparini, Capelli, Bononcini, Vinci and Giay (or Giai) plus some more familiar arias from Handel’s Giulio Cesare, Ottone and Flavio. Not only was Mineccia’s singing compelling and produced with total security, but it was accompanied by elegant and eloquent gestures and body movement. At the conclusion the audience burst into almost instantaneous synchronised clapping.
Mineccia impressed at Halle last year, as Dardano, in a high quality concert performance of Handel’s Amadigi di Gaula, and he has appeared in numerous baroque operas and oratorios, with conductors such as Alan Curtis, Ottavio Dantone and Diego Fasolis. Recordings include roles in Vivaldi’s Ercole sul Termodonte (DVD, with Curtis), Giulio Cesare (also Curtis), and Gasparini’s Il Bajazet (as Tamerlano, conducted by Carlo Ipata); there is also a solo recital disc of arias by Leonardo Vinci with Stile Galante and Stefano Aresi.
Obviously Mineccia has managed to establish a foothold in the world of go-to countertenors who can perform the problematic parts of 18th century alto castrato singers. It is a subject on which he has his own interesting views. He believes that the modern countertenor is a “product of the last twenty meterosexual years”, that it is a passing fashion and is not very optimistic about the future. Some conductors will always prefer mezzo-sopranos in these roles, for reasons with which he has some sympathy: countertenors are not using the full span of their vocal chords. Indeed his own favourite singer is Ann Hallenberg, whom he admires not just for her voice production, but for the technique, discipline and study she has brought to her roles. One suspects he is unduly pessimistic, as the last twenty years has seen not just an increase in number, but a substantial increase in the quality of countertenor singing, of which he is a shining exemplar.
Mineccia’s own story began in a boy’s choir in Fiesole, until his voice not just broke but changed utterly, and he turned to the cello, pursuing studies in that instrument and also in modern history. His approach to his singing is unusually scholarly; for the last three years, he has been doing his own research on the repertoire in which he is involved (while wishing to acknowledge advice he has received from Professor Lowell Lindgren of MIT). This was evident in his Halle recital. The only item in the concert program which he has recorded was Tolomeo’s “L’empio sleale” (from Giulio Cesare), an unusual and daring choice; even very well established singers tend to draw on their recordings for recitals.
This concert, as well as an outstanding performance in the lead part of Silla, also at Halle this year, suggest that an exciting, and unusually thoughtful, countertenor star is taking his place amongst the great Baroque singers of the 21st century.