Randall Scotting, countertenor, one of Musical America’s featured New Artists, is known for the rich, full warmth of his voice and his skilled dramatic interpretations. He recently debuted with the Bayerische Staatsoper in Georg Friederich Haas’ Thomas where his voice was noted as “wonderfully sonorous” (Neue Zürcher Zeitung). Last season he was the lead in Seattle Opera’s production of Jonathan Dove’s Flight, which also received rave reviews. In 2019, he performed for sold-out audiences with the Royal Opera, Convent Garden, in Britten’s Death in Venice and he was then invited to sing in Handel’s Xerxes at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, but performances were cancelled due to the pandemic. Randall joined the roster of the Metropolitan Opera in 2020 and returned for the 2021-22 season. Scotting’s singing has been described as “expressive, flexible…excellent” by the New York Times and, according to Opernwelt, “his voice has a broad spectrum of colours and great variety of expressive nuance.” He has sung with Santa Fe Opera, Seattle Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Italy’s Spoleto Festival, and at Carnegie Hall, National Sawdust in Brooklyn, London’s National Gallery, and many others. Scotting holds a PhD in 18th century Italian opera from London’s Royal College of Music.
Welcome Mr. Scotting, it is a pleasure to have you as a guest for OPERACharm Magazine. We are talking about your remarkable project, the album The Crown, which revives forgotten delights and explores the versatile voice of one of the most famed singers of all time, the superstar castrato, Senesino. Let’s start with the beginning of the project, why Senesino?
He is a great focus for lots of reasons. First and foremost, by most accounts his voice was just incredible. The legacy of this celebrity singer has endured for centuries for a reason. I was singing roles that Handel created for Senesino, like the leads in Giulio Cesare and Orlando, and that music was perfect for me. He had this robust alto voice, full of drama and musicality, and I just love singing these roles. They are challenging in every way possible – fiery coloratura, lyrical singing that tugs at the heart, pacing your voice throughout an entire evening – all that really excites me. I started to investigate what else was written for this amazing singer, because, at least in theory, if Handel’s music for him matched my voice, then the things other composers wrote for Senesino should also fit me like a glove. I found out that there are 114 operas that were composed for him, so there was a lot more to the story that needed to be told. I was driven by a passion to know more and what I found was amazing. Uncovering all of this prompted me into my PhD studies at the Royal College of Music in London so I could gain access to musical manuscripts and learn what to do with them. For this album, I chose the best of what I found; I wanted to show the whole voice and talent of this amazing singer, new sides to his performing that were unknown, and I think we’ve succeeded in that. While most singers don’t delve into this kind of academic work, I really excelled at it, and I am so glad that I did a PhD because it has opened up a lot of exciting pathways for me in my performing. Another reason Senesino is interesting is that aside from his singing, as a person he was really an over-the-top, total divo personality. He was very arrogant, and many people didn’t like him. He just couldn’t keep himself from getting wrapped up in scandals. In one of his first gigs, when he was 20 years old, he sued the impresario of the theatre that had hired him. He didn’t care that it could make people think he was conceited, or that it might keep him from getting hired other places. In London, he got in trouble because he kept making nasty sexual comments to one of his co-stars. It sounds a lot like some of the shocking things that still go on today! He even died because he got too worked-up during a screaming argument. So, he was a colourful and dramatic person, both on and off the stage, and it was exciting to learn about all of this, in addition to what the notes on the page can show us, and to bring that to my interpretations of the music. I should probably say that although our voices are very similar, our personalities couldn’t be more different because I’m actually a nice guy.
Besides all the music being composed for Senesino, are there other themes that tie this album together?
Senesino was definitely the driving force in the beginning, but that did lead to some other wonderful discoveries. For example, as I was looking at the arias I had chosen to record, I saw that they were composed for regal characters: impassioned kings, noble heroes on the battlefield, royal lovers, and renowned conquerors. These were the roles that Senesino loved to portray, perceiving a reflection of himself in their valiant power. So, that became another thread that tied things together and led me to title the album The Crown. Also, the composers themselves began to emerge as a story that needed to be told. All seven of them who wrote arias on the album were genuine musical talents, greatly admired throughout Europe for the refinement and skill of their compositions, but they are almost entirely forgotten today. Today everyone knows the works by Handel; his music is wonderful, and it’s always so fulfilling to sing a Handel role because he had a real understanding of voices, and how to connect the drama of a scene with music, but there is all this other amazing and forgotten repertoire to explore! They composers are a fascinating bunch that just haven’t had their chance yet to be known by modern audiences. There are arias by Handel’s rivals in London, Ariosti and Bononcini. There’s an aria by Ristori, whose music was largely lost during bombings in WWII. And my personal favourite, the composer Giovanni Giaj. Nobody seems to know this guy and he was a big deal. He cast some of the most famous celebrity singers in more than a dozen of his operas and his patrons loved music, so he had cash to burn when producing his lavish spectacles. So, on this album I’m telling the fascinating story of these composers as well. There are 13 modern-day premieres of arias that I dug up in archives in Europe, the US, and the UK that are being heard for the first time in 300 years!
Read the entire interview here, in the 6th/2022 issue of OPERA Charm Magazine.0