by Cree Carrico
ClevelandClassical’s Oberlin intern Cree Carrico reached countertenor Philippe Jaroussky by phone the day before his Mixon Hall Recital at CIM in Cleveland on January 16. Jaroussky’s appearance with pianist Jerome Ducros was sponsored by Apollo’s Fire, who will bring him in for concerts next season.
Cree Carrico: I hear you’ve just come from New York where you made your Carnegie Hall debut yesterday.
Philippe Jaroussky: Yes, yesterday evening.
CC: How did it go?
PJ: Oh it was cool. I was in good form and the concert was in the small hall — that was very receptive. The hall had great sound and it was really a great concert. I am very happy and look forward to coming back. You know sometimes as a musician you have some dreams. To perform at Carnegie, you think, it’s not for you, its impossible, and when its happening it’s a big joy. You have to enjoy each moment.
CC: How exciting. Will your Mixon Hall program be the same that you performed at Carnegie Hall?
PJ: Yes, absolutely. It will be the same program, a program of French songs. It’s quite strange for me that I’m doing my first recital at Carnegie and in Cleveland with repertory I’m not known for. Finally, its my French touch you know. When I did this program, I did a CD also and there were some very strong reactions. A lot of people in France say this repertoire isn’t appropriate for a countertenor voice. I did this program a lot outside of France, in Japan, in Brazil, in Germany, in England and finally here in the USA. Maybe here its more logical, because before I’m a countertenor, I’m a French musician. It’s not so stupid for you to invite me here and sing this repertory.
CC: Right, and all the French composers wrote for the French, so why not come and share it with us.
PJ: Yes, that is why I’m singing this repertory. I like very much to sing just with a piano. It’s just a meeting between two musicians. It’s my opportunity to express myself directly in my own language. In baroque arias I have not a lot of things to express. This is really my secret garden. I can really express and feel deeply each word of each poem. It’s something special for me. I’m very surprised to see how open minded the public is here in the USA. In France, this music is suffering because of some prejudice because people are thinking it is quite old fashioned music, boring music. I think it’s absolutely to the contrary. It’s very fresh music. I hope that the public in Cleveland will react like yesterday. I’m sure that they will be very curious about this French music.
CC: I think the music offers so much to an audience, and hearing this repertoire through your voice will be a much different experience.
PJ: Yes. You know I will be coming to Cleveland again next year because I have to perform with Apollo’s Fire and of course, it will be with baroque arias. But to make my first appearance with this program is quite original. It’s not usual. That’s cool.
CC: I think it’s fantastic that you made your Carnegie Hall debut singing music that means so much to you; something that is really a part of yourself.
PJ: Yes of course. There are some programs in which I can show off. I could sing some Vivaldi or Handel arias where you can demonstrate more virtuosity and things like this. But finally in singing French repertory, particularly this one, I am showing more my own personality. Who I am really.
CC: Is there any specific piece you love more than the others?
PJ: I like very much the composer Reynaldo Hahn. These songs are a huge success with the public. He is the Vivaldi of this repertory. He’s so fresh and so simple, it’s touching. People are always reacting very well to this composer, sometimes more than to Debussy or Fauré. He was a charming person and he liked to charm the public. You can see it in the music. What is difficult maybe and a challenge is the level of the poetry. Each piece is generally quite short, approximately 3-4 minutes each and is an entire world. The public has not a lot of time to enter into each piece. One has to understand it perfectly from the beginning. I like also to build the program, to choose which piece comes after another, and to build dramatic structure.
CC: Something a lot of music lovers don’t know is that a countertenor isn’t your only voice type. Were you originally a baritone?
PJ: Yes, oh yes. I have a very bad baritone voice. I have no reasons to sing in this voice. From the beginning I wanted to sing as a countertenor. I cannot explain why. Maybe because I was a violinist and I was attracted to high notes and harmonies. Maybe if I were a cellist it would be different. I can see the behavior of my colleagues, other countertenors, and I find most of us, we act a little bit like big children. We want to keep something of our childhood, the pure innocence . As a countertenor, I have the feeling of finding something which is not touched by life. It’s something special. I think that even people who are prepared to hear this countertenor voice, are always very surprised after the first note. Some people don’t like the countertenor voice. There are very strong reactions. Its not grey. It’s always black and white. People love this voice or hate it. I like this point of view because most of the time, the public who like countertenors will follow you.
CC: I love the countertenor voice and I especially think your voice is really fantastic so I appreciate that you’ve decided not to sing in your baritone voice for us.
PJ: Thank you. The voice, it’s very personal. When I was a violinist or a pianist I could hide myself behind the instrument. You cannot do that with the voice. Its so direct. It’s a direct reflection of your personality and that’s why people like singers. It’s just your voice. You cannot lie. When I started to sing I had this feeling of being completely naked.
CC: In this month’s Classical Singer Magazine, your face is seen in an advertisement next to those of Natalie Dessay and Diana Damrau. You have also received several awards and have performed with some of the world’s best orchestras. What would you say has contributed to your star status at such a young age?
PJ: It’s easier to have a renaissance when you are countertenor because there are fewer of us. It’s more difficult for a soprano voice, because there are such lot of very talented sopranos. Why me? Maybe because when I started to sing I was quite a high countertenor voice. When I started 10 years ago, more and more conductors and stage directors wanted to have some men in male roles, particularly the ones written for castrati. Everything went very fast for me 10 years ago. I was a musician, but my body was not ready to sing such difficult pieces. My voice was too young and I needed some years more to mature in my body and technique. Fame is something you cannot explain sometimes. I met a lot of different people, did such a lot of concerts with many conductors and after many years I had a public which was following me. It’s difficult when you are young to assume all these things because you are thinking, why me? Why am I deserving all this? I’m quite a lucky guy, everything was so easy for me. I think now there are a lot of good countertenors and I have a lot of admiration for my colleagues.
CC: Do you prefer singing in operas or concert format?
PJ: Until this moment, I did more concerts and recitals, but I want to do more opera. To progress as an actor I need to do more opera. But, I like very much to build a concert program, though sometimes recitals are more tiring. You are singing all evening but you have the time to build something. For me it’s frightening. An opera is an entire society and I don’t think it’s so free. What is good in opera is that you can learn a lot from the other singers. You can react with what they are proposing to you and you can really work deeper on your interpretation. Then, finally, when you come back to the recital you can feel the difference. But really, I need to do both.
CC: I agree. Each discipline is so different.
PJ: It’s very different. In a concert you are to be yourself. In opera, it is a meeting with the character. I need two weeks to enter into a part, to really put myself inside. It’s quite complex but it’s also fascinating.
CC: As far as your next performances, are you doing more of this program, or are you moving on to something different after this?
PJ: When I get back to Paris, I’m doing a piece which was composed for me by a French composer who works a lot in the USA. After, I am taking part in a production of Giulio Cesare, in a concert version. In Paris. I always dreamed to sing onstage with Cecilia Bartoli and soon I will realize this dream. After this, I will go directly to do a tour of concerts in Australia with the Australian Brandenburg Baroque Orchestra. This year is a very busy year because I have to be everywhere. Its very exciting, but frightening at the same time.
CC: Have you ever gone through a long stretch like this before or is this the first time?
PJ: I don’t like to sing the same program. I like to change. But you have to prep yourself. More and more I can feel that my job is not just to sing. I have to travel, I have to make some interviews. All these things you have to keep in mind and not to take too many concerts. For me it’s difficult when someone proposes a project because I’m always enthusiastic. Sometimes I realize, “my god, its too much”. I have to work to preserve my voice. I like to change the country, my collaborations, the music, and not to be where people are expecting me. I like surprises.
CC: What is your view of Baroque music in America?
PJ: I think in the US there is a lot more interest in baroque music. I’m trying each year to do concerts here. In Europe, people know baroque repertoire very well. I’m very happy to convince a new public that baroque music is very amazing music.
CC: As a singer myself, I feel that we are often overlooked as people. What does your typical day look like?
PJ: My typical day? I don’t think I have a typical day. That’s what I like in this job. It’s absolutely not boring. One day you are traveling to a place you’ve never been, you do a concert, and sometimes you are just at home doing nothing. When I’m traveling a lot and I go back home for a few days, I just want to sit down on the sofa and watch the TV. Before I became a singer, I was not traveling a lot. This job gave me the opportunity to know the world. After a few days at home, I just want to go on holiday and travel again. The more you are traveling the more you want to travel. One of the best things that this job gave me is the ability to know different cultures, different languages, and meet a lot of people.
CC: Do you have any hobbies? Any special things you like to do besides sing?
PJ: Any hobbies? My hobbies are quite crazy. What I like most is to find scores. It’s like you’re looking for a treasure. I spend a lot of time on the internet, and in libraries looking for manuscripts. I like to collect unknown arias, things like this.
CC: Do you have any rituals for relieving stress?
PJ: I’m a sleeper. I am sleeping a lot. For the voice, it’s very good to sleep. For 2 or 3 years I am getting massages for the body. After a few months of singing I feel I need to equilibrate the energy in my body. Its helping me a lot to have the massage after big travel. It helps me very much to keep my energy.
CC: One way I deal with stress is through food. Do you have a favorite food or dessert?
PJ: Favorite food? I like food very much. I like red wine particularly, but for food I like a very refined cuisine. A very good steak can be one of the best moments of your life. But it depends. For example, I was in Japan some months ago and have to say it’s one of the countries where you’re eating the best. My god. Its so so fresh — there is such variety. I like it very much.
CC: Well I don’t have any more questions and I’m looking very much forward to your performance tomorrow!
PJ: Great. Thank you and see you tomorrow! Have a nice evening. Bye bye!
Cree Carrico, a vocal studies major at the Oberlin Conservatory, is Winter Term intern for ClevelandClassical.com.