If speaking voices were fabrics, then Andrea Mastroni’s would be the sheen on the blackest of black velvet. The native of Venice, residing in the outskirts of Milan, unknowingly growls when grasping for a word, and the one listening to his interview through earbuds suddenly looks every which way to locate any large predatory feline. The busy but amiable basso profondo with a ready laugh—taking time between a sudden lieder recital in Rome and the long-scheduled release of his new CD of Händel arias, “Melancholia”— spoke in a shared second language in an exclusive interview with Blasting News, generously telling of his recent research discoveries, projects, stage performances and a little dog named Timur.

Tribute to fellow Venetian

Various arias chosen for the CD were written for Antonio Montagnana, a mid-18th-century Venetian basso profondo. According to Andrea Mastroni, “Montagnana's special voice was both deep and high with impressive expressivity, great ease in ornamented passages, overwhelming malleability, and was capable of sustaining extremely long vocal lines.” Mastroni’s research unearthed documents containing spectators’ comments likening Montagnana’s voice to a lion’s deep, hard-hitting roar, yet simultaneously versatile with coloratura. Montagnana had a 16-year career, the length of Andrea Mastroni’s career to date. The freshness of the young man’s unique voice, though, clearly suggests it will still be performing breathtaking feats at least 16 years more.

Why “Melancholia”?

Not all the brilliant bravura arias on the new release are sad. Andrea Mastroni explains: “In Italian, ‘Melancholia’ is a typical word for feelings, mood or state of mind. It’s not always about sadness, but sometimes pensiveness. Some arias are indeed melancholic due to a loss or defeat, but others are more reflective rumination.” Examples of both are Varo’s arias from the 1732 opera ‘Ezio’ (or Æteus): “Già risonar d’intorno” and “Nasce al bosco in rozza cuna,” which, says Andrea Mastroni, “is inhumanly difficult, with endless vocal lines, coloratura embellishments throughout the entire range and 12-tone intervals.” The latter tells of a humble shepherd’s happiness when he fortuitously ascends the throne, in contrast with the grief of a less-fortunate royal dethroned and forced to tend the herds.

The former is a warrior’s musings on a friend’s debt of loyalty. Listeners can sense both the fallen royal’s melancholy and the hero’s somber reflection.

A monster in music

Musically, the oddest yet most compelling piece from the CD may be “Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori,” from Händel’s unique 1708 dramatic cantata, ‘Aci, Galatea e Polifemo.’ The voice of Polyphemus—a gigantic one-eyed cyclops—ranges through three octaves, from A-natural below the bass staff to A-flat above it.

“That A-natural is one of the lowest notes on recordings,” says the singer. “A monster calls for an otherworldly score. I hope listeners can sense Polifemo’s split personality, his bipolarity, as his music conveys two distinct voices. I tried to imitate the voice of a cello for the ‘reinforced falsetto’ that the score calls for.” He succeeds on all counts very well.

Fearless leader

Conductor Riccardo Doni leads the youthful forces of Academia dell’Annunciata in pristine readings of this Baroque banquet. The CD program opens with “Già risonar d’intorno” from ‘Ezio,’ which Andrea Mastroni calls “an aria concertante con la tromba,” with its dazzling opening duet between trumpet chorale and oboes.

A similar vocal-instrumental partnership occurs in “Voli colla sea tromba” (the king of Scotland’s aria from ‘Ariodante’), this time with rich interplay between voice and French horn. Other than the sensitive support they provide to Andrea Mastroni’s impressive vocalism, the orchestra stands out in a generous selection of strictly orchestral interludes: opera overtures from ‘Riccardo I, re d’Inghilterra,’ ‘Orlando’ and ‘Ezio’ and ‘Concerto grosso in G Major,’ Op. 6, No. 1, HWV 319.

Future recordings

Last year’s interview with Andrea Mastroni announced the release of ‘Erlkönig’ (King of Elves), Franz Schubert’s masterful art song with piano accompaniment, as a Gothic music video. Plans are afoot for another video clip, likely with the same director and designers, this time about Polifemo.

So stay tuned. Meanwhile, expected soon is the release on Deutsche Grammafon of Händel’s ‘Serse’ (Xerxes), with Franco Fagioli in the title role, recorded last year at Versailles under Maxime Emelyanychev. Andrea Mastroni interprets the role of Ariodate. Another distinguished cast member is Vivica Genaux, as Arsamene. Mastroni says: “I’d like to do other recordings of Venetian composers from Händel’s epoch. There were so many!” The bass feels totally at home in this repertoire. “It’s a perfect fit. I feel so tranquil when I sing these roles, so I’d love to discover more.”

Coming to stages everywhere

Upcoming stage performances whisk Andrea Mastroni from Salzburg, Austria, to Cologne, France, and on to Lausanne, Switzerland; Naples, Hamburg, Munich and Madrid.

Händel figures prominently in these appearances, including ‘Rodelinda,’ ‘Ariodante,’ ‘Orlando,’ and ‘Agrippina,’ which will be recorded and tour widely. Roles include Mustafà in ‘L’italiana in Algeri,’ Fiesco in Verdi’s ‘Simone Boccanegra' and Sparafucile in his ‘Rigoletto.’ He appears at Teatro Real, Madrid, among a stellar cast in Puccini’s ‘Turandot,’ with Nina Stemme in the title role and Gregory Kunde as the Unknown Prince (Calàf), and Mastroni as Calàf’s father, Timur, the deposed king of Tartary.

Speaking of Timur …

The role of Timur figured prominently in Andrea Mastroni’s performing schedule a couple years ago, when he acquired a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, also named Timur. What are the odds?