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In recent years Max Emanuel Cencic has become recognised as one of the world’s supreme countertenors. He first became known internationally as a member of the Vienna Boys’ Choir, before launching his solo career in 1992 as a soprano, and from 2001 as a countertenor.
He now appears in productions at major opera houses worldwide, including the Vienna State Opera, the Theater an der Wien, the Bavarian State Opera, the Semperoper Dresden, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Frankfurt Opera, the Teatro Carlo Felice Genoa, the Teatro Real in Madrid, Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, the Opéra National de Lorraine in Nancy, the Théâtre Capitole in Toulouse, La Monnaie in Brussels, Geneva’s Grand Théâtre and the Teatro Nacional de São Carlos in Lisbon.
In concert he has performed in such major venues as Carnegie Hall, the Barbican Centre in London, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Vienna’s Musikverein, the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, the Laeiszhalle Hamburg, the Cologne Opera, the Palais Garnier in Paris, the Frauenkirche Dresden, the Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden and Tokyo’s Opera Nomori, and at festivals in Ludwigsburg, Potsdam, Halle (Händel Festspiele), Spoleto (Due Mondi), Ambronay, Eisenstadt, and Dubrovnik.
Conductors with whom Cencic collaborates on a regular basis include William Christie, René Jacobs, Ottavio Dantone, Diego Fasolis, Jean-Christophe Spinosi, George Petrou, Emmanuelle Haïm, Fabio Biondi and Riccardo Muti.
An early milestone in Max Emanuel Cencic’s career was his interpretation of Nerone in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea in Basel, which prompted the leading German magazine Opernwelt to name him Best New Singer of the Year 2003. Other notable assumptions included the role of Perseo in Vivaldi’s long-forgotten serenata Andromeda Liberata (recorded live by Deutsche Grammophon and named Best Concert of the Year 2005 by the specialist music press in Japan), the title role in Handel’s rarely performed opera Faramondo, and the Herald in the world premiere of Aribert Reimann’s Medea at the Vienna State Opera in 2010.
2011-12 brought appearances at the Opéra national de Lorraine in Nancy, Barcelona’s Grand Teatre del Liceu (alongside Plácido Domingo), at the Opéra de Lille and at the Bremen Festival. Cencic also made a US tour with Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Rounding out his season were solo song recitals at the Palais de Versailles, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the Handel Festival in Karlsruhe, Zagreb’s Lisinski Hall and the Onassis Hall, Athens.
Hugely important in Cencic’s 2012-13 season was the production, tour and recording of a newly-rediscovered opera, Leonardo Vinci’s Artaserse. This whole project was his idea, from the choice of work to the choice of cast: originally premiered in Rome in 1730, at a time when women were there forbidden from performing on the public stage, this re-creation also featured an all-male cast, including five counter-tenors. Cencic played the challenging role of Mandane, and was rewarded with rave reviews, both personally and for all concerned: whether at the Opéra national de Lorraine, the Theater an der Wien, the Cologne Opera, the Opéra de Lausanne or the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, every performance received a standing ovation.
He will return to the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées to give a solo recital, and further such are scheduled at the Grand Théâtre in Avignon and the Cuvilliéstheater in Munich. He is also performing at major festivals in Ambronay, Sablé-sur-Sarthe, Montpellier and Innsbruck. As the protagonist of Handel’s opera Alessandro he is appearing at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, the Opéra Royal de Versailles, in Vichy and Wiesbaden, at the Megaron in Athens, the Theater an der Wien, the Enescu Festival in Bucharest and the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam. At the first performance of Alessandro in Versailles he was awarded the prestigious Arabella de Platine by forumopera.com, in recognition of his outstanding performances during 2012. He will make his début at the Frankfurt Opera in Gluck’s Ezio, while performances of his newly-successful Venezia programme will take him to venues from St Petersburg to Montpellier. His new concert programme, Rokoko, a homage to Johann Adolf Hasse, accompanied by George Petrou and Armonia Atenea, will be performed in Metz, Monte Carlo, Bordeaux and Paris, and the CD will be issued by Decca in January 2014. Other solo appearances in the near future embrace repertoire from Bach’s version of Pergolesi’s Stabat mater to opera arias by Mozart and Rossini, and Orff’s Carmina Burana.
His extensive CD catalogue features a number of award-winning recordings. Faramondo, released by Virgin Classics in 2009, confirmed his mastery of Handel. Soon after its release it was recognised in France with the Diapason découverte and theDiapason d’Or and has since notched up a total of 11 awards. Early 2010 brought the release on EMI/Virgin Classics of Mezzo-soprano, a recital of Handel arias, which received outstanding reviews and has been honoured with a prize from the French magazine Télérama, Croatia’s Porin award, the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik and the Orphée d'Or of France’s Académie du Disque Lyrique. DVD releases include Landi’s rare opera Il Sant’Alessio, (Virgin Classics 2008), and Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea from the Teatro Real, Madrid (2011). Both were conducted by William Christie, who was also the conductor for Cencic’s acclaimed album Duetti, released in 2011. In 2012 this won Germany’s prestigious Echo Klassik prize, as did the recording of Gluck’s opera Ezio, conducted by Alan Curtis, which features Cencic in the role of Valentiniano. The Decca recording of Handel’s Alessandro, again featuring Cencic as the male lead, was released in September 2012, and has already garnered six major awards, including Opera CD of the Year for 2013 from operaawards.com. It was rapidly followed by the sensational discs of Vinci’s Artaserse (EMI/Virgin Classics Autumn 2012), and a virtuoso solo recital disc Venezia (EMI/Virgin Classics January 2013). The CD Artaserse was awarded the Echo Klassik in October 2013. Artaserse,Alessandro, Farnace and Venezia have all been broadcast Europe-wide on several satellite TV channels.
Max Emanuel Cencic’s iconic status amongst present-day countertenors was encapsulated by the sensation he created in the title role of Vivaldi’s opera Farnace, which he performed during the 2011-12 season at venues including the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, the Opéra de Lausanne, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, the Bremen Festival, the Opéra national du Rhin in Strasbourg and Mulhouse, and the Opéra Royal in Versailles (it also achieved even wider success through its transmission on mezzoTV). His recording of the work, conducted by Diego Fasolis, was released by Virgin Classics in September 2011. The rapturous critical response highlighted not only Cencic’s achievements as a vocalist and interpreter, but also his role as a torchbearer for an entire generation of countertenors: “This aria [Ricordati che sei] would be enough to set the seal on Cencic’s greatness, putting him right at the heart of the best of today’s baroque singing and, indisputably, of the new countertenor era, setting standards as its leading light,” wrote Alessandro Mormile in L’Opera (4 February 2012). The review went on to describe Cencic’s moving performance of the aria Gelido in ogni vena: “Mention must also be made ... of the tragic spirit invoked in Gelido in ogni vena by vocalism that is extraordinary not only in passages where agility is the dominant factor, but which can also bring colour to the tragic tension of such moments, with an awareness of all the expressive possibilities of a countertenor voice that owes its exceptional charisma to a roundness of tone unparallelled in voices of this type.” Or, as another review recently put it: “Cencic … the undisputed singing god of the evening”.
© Max Emanuel Cencic