Each week, CBC Radio 2's Saturday Afternoon at the Opera crew chooses a hot new opera release that you need to know about. Here's your opera spotlight for April 20, 2013. 

Album: Handel: Bad Guys.

Artists: Countertenor Xavier Sabata with Il Pomo d'Oro and conductor Ricardo Minasi.

Repertoire: Handel arias as sung by evil characters.

Label: Aparté.

Opera has a bit of a problem. Composers in the baroque era wrote female roles for men to sing and act. These singers had, through surgical means, retained their youthful soprano voices. Composers even wrote male roles in this unnaturally high voice. It's all very odd. These surgically altered men were called castrati. At the height of their popularity, some 4,000 boys were castrated each year in the hopes they'd become famous opera stars.

Of course nowadays, it's no longer acceptable to "snip snip," and thus we're left with the problem of casting these roles. Women can play them, and that happens, but another solution has been found as well: countertenors. These are men who sing in a strong, high falsetto voice. And given how popular baroque opera is becoming these days, they're in great demand.

We shine this week's opera spotlight on a new release called Handel: Bad Guys featuring the Barcelona-born countertenor Xavier Sabata.

You might think I chose this album for the cover image alone and, indeed, it's a breathtaking photo. Let's just say Sabata defies the countertenor stereotype. He looks like someone you might not want to meet late at night on a dark, unlit corner.

And yet, musically speaking, you will want to meet Sabata. His voice is a rich, full-throttled experience, without a hint of that wispiness you sometimes get from a countertenor. His energetic reading of these arias brings to life Handel's more vengeful operatic characters. And yet, there’s still that baroque beauty and elegance underlying the entire performance.

Here's an excerpt from Handel: Bad Guys. Listen to this aria from the opera Giulio Cesare in Egitto. Loosely translated, it’s titled, “I will tame your pride," and it ends with the deliciously nasty line, "I will clip your wings."

LISTEN "Domerò la tua fierezza," from Giulio Cesare in Egitto.



Download Handel: Bad Guys

Discover Daniel Cabena, Canada's next countertenor superstar

Watch: Xavier Sabata discusses Handel: Bad Guys

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posted by Matthew McFarlane on Apr 18, 2013