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They’ve had it all their own way for a decade, but the world’s getting tougher for countertenors: the explosion in Baroque operas created masses of jobs beyond the Oxbridge chapel choirs where they used to lurk, and it seems every new opera must by law contain a falsetto role too. But now the novelty has worn off, mezzos are fighting back in the Baroque, and the market has become glutted with the constant stream of newbies to the fashionable fach. The voices themselves have become much richer, more powerful and varied than 20 years ago, too. William Towers is in his 40s and has a good career in UK and abroad: now here’s his pitch to get more roles in this crowded marketplace. The title is a bit misleading – much of this is in the contemplative sarabande-style of ‘Qual nave smarrita’ (which suits him better) rather than show-offy coloratura, though Towers can do both.

The voice is more instrumental in timbre than some, with a melancholy tinge – actually it reminds me of the darker mezzos of the Stutzmann/Mijanovic sort, with ‘Cara sposa’ a standout of the ‘sad sax’ kind. The arias happily include some off-piste choices (eg from Poro) among the chestnuts (‘Ombra mai fu’, ‘Qual nave smarrita’, ‘Dove sei’…), and they are all solidly and pleasantly delivered, but after a while it gets a bit samey. The single-instrument sounds produced by Christopher Monks’s Armonico Consort – this team worked together on the cute pasticcio playlet Too Hot to Handel a few years ago – are lovely, highlighting Handel’s polyphonies, but rather wooden in rhythm and inflection, and the voice follows suit: you long for a bit more give in the beat, more varied delivery, more expression. But his technique is well up to all the demands here, and the final ‘Dopo l’orrore’ from Ottone is a jolly dry-run for ‘Dopo notte’.

Robert Thicknesse Read the full review on Agora Classica

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