Review of Performance of Meyerbeer's Opera Il Crociato in Egitto with Male Soprano Michael Maniaci.
The male soprano voice in today's world (not sopranist or countertenor) is one voice in a billion people. For this reason alone, this CD soundtrack (or the DVD, which I have) is well worth having. The last castrato to sing the primo uomo role in the waning days of the great castrati was Giovanni Battista Valluti.
80% of operas were written before the year 1800, and 70% of the roles were for alto and soprano castrati, who were produced artificially to the tune of 4,000 - 5,000 per year during the golden age of the Baroque. As the style of opera changed and the need for castrati diminished outside of church choirs, Meyerbeer's opera faded from the stage and only rarely was attempted with substitute voices until male soprano Michael Maniaci was called in with little notice to replace the female singer originally cast in the lead male role. Being able to hear a man singing the primo uomo role, therefore, is a treat. This is even more so when viewing Michael on stage.
The one problem with the performance, of course, is the sound of Michael's voice, which has a very heavy vibrato, especially when he sings loudly and/or sings higher notes. For listeners less informed about Baroque opera and more used to 19th-century / 20th-century opera performance, this difficulty may have gone unnoticed, especially considering the fact that all the female singers also had exceptionally heavy vibrato. The preferred style and required technique of the Baroque age was to sing with very focused voices, required not just for the vocal beauty but also in order to be able to sing the often very acrobatic lines.
I never have obtained information that would indicate whether Michael's vibrato is the nature of his voice and/or the result of modern vocal coaching. It is said that Julliard was not sure what to do with him, and I am not clear as to his coaching at Cincinnati.
This CD, therefore, provides the listener with an interesting experience, although the DVD showing Michael Maniaci on stage (along with the offered subtitles) may be more satisfying to many listeners.