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Dashing devil with voice of an angel
French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky has returned to Australia for his third visit, again performing with Sydney’s Brandenburg Orchestra, led by artistic director Paul Dyer. He will perform a series of baroque opera showstoppers; arias made famous by the dueling baroque ‘rock stars’, the great castrati Farinelli and Carestini.
“When I was planning these Sydney and Melbourne concerts, I thought, ‘I’m not going there very often, so this program had to be a feast and have fireworks’,” Jaroussky told the Star Observer.
“What I like [about Australia] is that there is capacity to try new things. Paul has an incredible luxury to have a huge series of concerts in the one city. In Sydney a Brandenburg series is like the run of an opera production – six times in the one venue. That it is quite unique in the world.”
Part of what’s made Jaroussky such an unlikely superstar in his home country – he sells CDs in the numbers enjoyed by pop stars and has received numerous international awards – is his remarkable voice. It has to be heard to be believed – or rather, seen, as the disconnect between Jaroussky’s strikingly handsome looks and his crystal-clear, androgynous countertenor voice takes its time to sink in.
“I can sing in a baritone voice but I realised quite quickly that voice – my normal male chest voice – isn’t so interesting. And I felt very comfortable in this high voice. Maybe because I played violin before, I could relate better to high notes,” he explained.
“When I started to sing as a countertenor, I felt more flexibility, more freedom, and I could express more things with this high voice than with the deep voice.”
At just 35 years of age, Jaroussky is already something of an industry veteran, having worked in classical music and opera since his early 20s. Some 14 years into his career, his relative youth is still something of a talking point.
“For a countertenor I was quite young when I started performing, singing concerts at 21. With some voices like a Wagnerian tenor, you need to wait until you are 30 to approach some parts. You certainly couldn’t start your career at 21,” said Jaroussky, who admitted that his earlier years as a countertenor were not without difficulty.
“It is difficult to be so exposed. You can‘t hide yourself in singing. You can’t lie. You can’t hide yourself behind an instrument and the activity of playing it. You have just your body, and at the beginning I felt quite uncomfortable,” he said.
“To sing changed my personality. I am much less shy than in the past and much more self-confident and physically aware than before I started.”