Max Emanuel Cencic | Biography


Max Emanuel Cencic
© Anna Hoffmann
“Mr Cencic is blessed with the finest countertenor voice of our day.” That was the view of the German magazine Opernwelt back in 2008, and ever since Cencic has strengthened his iconic status among present-day countertenors, with a combination of beautiful, pure tone and passionate delivery.
Born in 1976 in Zagreb, Cencic first came to public attention aged six singing the Queen of the Night aria from the Magic Flute. He went on to sing with the Vienna Boys Choir, touring widely and launching his solo career in 1992 as a male soprano, followed in 2001 as a countertenor.
In 2003, Cencic’s interpretation of Nerone (in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea) in Basel was an early milestone in his career, prompting Opernwelt to name him Best New Singer of the Year. Other notable roles have included Perseo in Vivaldi’s long-forgotten serenata Andromeda Liberata (recorded live by Deutsche Grammophon), the title role in Handel’s rarely performed opera Faramondo, and the Herald in the world premiere of Reimann’s Medea at the Vienna State Opera in 2010. During the 2011–12 season Cencic stunned audiences in Paris, Lausanne, Amsterdam and Versailles, creating the title role of Vivaldi’s opera Farnace. The production achieved even wider success through widespread transmission on mezzoTV. In the 2012–13 season came a tour and recording of a newly-rediscovered opera, Leonardo Vinci’s Artaserse, once again attracting rave reviews.
In November 2013 Cencic made his debut at the Frankfurt Opera in a production of Gluck’s Ezio‚ Il Giornale della Musica calling him “musically impeccable”. The following year saw Hasse’s Siroe in Athens and Versailles, concert performances of Tamerlano in Versailles, Munich, Cologne, Hamburg and Vienna and Alessandro in Moscow, Carmina Burana at the Festival d’Orange and many concerts throughout Europe. In 2015 he performed Il Catone in Utica in Wiesbaden, Bergen and at the Opéra Royal de Versailles in May and June. The Versailles performance was recorded and broadcast via FranceTV’s Culture Box. He takes the production to Bucharest and Vienna in September. There are also further performances of Siroe in Moscow, Krakow and Amsterdam and appearances in Handel’s Tamerlano in Amsterdam, London and Poissy. In February 2016 he directs and plays the title role in a production of Handel’s Arminio at the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe and gives a concert performance of the work in Vienna in April. 
Cencic’s Decca recording of Handel’s Alessandro, released in September 2012, garnered six major awards, including Opera CD of the Year for 2013 from, and won rave reviews, as did his 2014 release Rokoko, a collection of opera arias by Hasse, the first fruit of an agreement between Decca, Cencic and his pioneering music production company Parnassus Arts to create a series of landmark world premiere recordings of Baroque masterpieces. Limelight Magazine referred to the recording of Hasse arias as a “superb recital . . . Cencic’s voice is one of the richest around today with a gleaming top, a fulsome but firm bottom register and his technical facility is spectacular yet always beautifully expressive.”
His November 2014 release of Hasse’s Siroe with Armonia Atenea under George Petrou was chosen as Recording of the Month in BBC Music Magazine, Editor’s Choice in Gramophone and awarded the prestigious Diapason d’or Award, adding to the many honours his extensive CD catalogue has garnered, including eleven prizes for his Faramondo, four for a recital of Handel arias, and Germany’s prestigious Echo Klassik prize for his Duetti album. He sang the role of Valentiniano in a recording of Gluck’s opera Ezio, which also won an Echo Klassik prize, as did Leonardo Vinci’s Artaserse (all Virgin Classics).
Cencic has no fewer than three releases during 2015. The 5 Countertenors was released in March (“… the disc is full of treats …” – Opera Now), Vinci’s Catone in Utica in May (“… a stunner …” – ClassicalSource). Within weeks, Catone in Utica had reached fifth place in the official Classic Charts Top 20, published monthly by Gfk Entertainment GmbH. In October comes a new solo album of Neapolitan arias with works by Porpora, Vinci and their contemporaries written for the superbly talented castrati of the day. Cencic’s well developed musical curiosity is in evidence, with ten world premiere recordings, including Auletta’s Concerto in D major for harpsichord, two violins and continuo played by the dynamic Maxim Emelyanychev.
Cencic frequently appears in productions at major opera houses worldwide, including the Vienna State Opera, Bavarian State Opera, Semperoper Dresden, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Teatro Real in Madrid, Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, La Monnaie in Brussels, Geneva’s Grand Théâtre and Teatro Nacional de São Carlos in Lisbon. In concert he has performed in such major venues as New York’s Carnegie Hall, Barbican Centre in London, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Vienna’s Musikverein, Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, Laeiszhalle Hamburg, Palais Garnier in Paris and Tokyo’s Opera Nomori, and at festivals in Ludwigsburg, Potsdam, Halle (Händel Festspiele), Spoleto (Due Mondi), Ambronay, Eisenstadt and Dubrovnik. He collaborates on a regular basis with conductors William Christie, René Jacobs, Ottavio Dantone, Diego Fasolis, Jean-Christophe Spinosi, George Petrou, Emmanuelle Haïm, Fabio Biondi and Riccardo Muti.
The 2020/2021 season included a new production of Dalbavie’s Le Soulier de Satin (world premiere) at the Paris Opera, at the Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival he sings the role of Lottario and directs the new production of Porpora’s Carlo il Calvo, the title role in Vinci’s Gismondo re di Polonia‚ Carmina Burana in the Wiener Konzerthaus, Hasse’s Cajo Fabrizio‚ Carlo il Calvo in concert at the Theater an der Wien and in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. Once more, he took on Rossini’s La Donna del Lago at the Zagreb Opera and at the festival in Saarema, where he directs the opera and sings the challenging role of Malcolm.

With his remarkable mezzo-soprano voice, Max Emanuel Cencic demonstrates that Baroque singing can be both technically brilliant and at the same time modern and emotionally engaging. For over two decades he has been performing in first rank opera houses, including the Wiener Staatsoper, Theater an der Wien, the Opernhaus Zürich, the Opéra Royal de Versailles, the Bayerische Staatsoper, the Staatsoper Unter den Linden Berlin, Barcelona’s Gran Teatro del Liceu, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris and Brussels’ La Monnaie.Concert engagements have taken him to the Laeiszhalle Hamburg, Carnegie Hall (New York), the Barbican Center (London), Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, the Wiener Musikverein and Wiener Konzerthaus, and the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow. In addition, he has sung at numerous festivals worldwide including the renowned Salzburger Festpiele. He regularly works with such conductors as William Christie, René Jacobs, Ottavio Dantone, Diego Fasolis, George Petrou, Emmanuelle Haïm and Riccardo Muti. His education as a singer began as a member of the Wiener Saengerknaben (Vienna Boys’ Choir), with a solo career as a soprano from 1992, and as a counter-tenor from 2001.On 21st September 2017, Max Emanuel Cencic celebrated the 35th anniversary of his first appearance on stage, with a performance of Orfeo in Gluck‘s Orfeo ed Euridice.

Max Emanuel Cencic entrances his audiences with his numerous projects, opera productions, CD recordings, and extensive tours. TV-stations such as Mezzo TV and Arte Concert have also documented several of his outstanding performances, including his revelatory presentation of Handel’s Alessandro (2012). As Artistic Director of Parnassus Arts Productions he is responsible for the conception, supervision and performance of important works of the Italian Baroque, among them the sensational re-discovery of Leonardo Vinci’s last opera, Artaserse, and, more recently, Arminio. As in its premiere in 1730 in Rome, this new production, performed with an all-male cast (including five counter-tenors), was widely praised, both in its live performances and on disc: it received ECHO Klassik awards in 2013 and 2014, the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik and the Diapason d‘or, and was nominated for a Grammy. His inspired revival of Vinci’s opera Catone in Utica, with four counter-tenors in the cast, was equally successful, both on stage and as a CD recording. The CD Ottone with Max Emanuel Cencic in title role has been nominated for a Grammy.

His solo-recordings are every bit as riveting: with Venezia he charmed audiences and critics alike with highlights from Venetian opera, while the CD Rokoko contained a fascinating compilation of arias from the extended and virtually unknown opus of Johann Adolph Hasse. Max Emanuel Cencic’s most recent, critically acclaimed CD, Arie Napoletane, is dedicated to masterpieces of the Neapolitan school. His wide-ranging discography includes several world premiere recordings and has received a number of awards, among them the Diapason d’Or, the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik, and Croatia’s Porin Prize. His discs have been “Editor’s Choice” in Gramophone magazine on several occasions. Another highlight is his European tour with solo concerts Porpora in Paris, Halle, Toulouse and many other cities. On the occasion of the 250th death anniversary of composer Nicola Antonio Porpora, he recorded this program on CD which was rewarded with the prestigious Diapason D’or award.
The French Ministry of Culture has made him a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

Max Emanuel Cencic has become in the meantime also an acknowledged international director. His live production of Hasse’s Siroe toured all over Europe and was released on CD by Decca. At the Händel festival in Karlsruhe in 2016 and 2017, he undertook the double role of lead singer and director of Händel’s opera Armino and for 2019 and 2020 he will direct Händel’s Serse and sing Arsamene. His 2019 Salzburger Pfingstfestspiele production of the rarely played opera Polifemo(Porpora) at the Felsenreitschule, were he also sang the role of Ulisse, was highly critically acclaimed. New productions in the upcoming years are Rossini‘s Tancredi, Mozart‘s Die Zauberflöte, Porporas Carlo il Calvo and Vinci‘s Alessandro nell‘Indie.

Since september 2020, Max Emanuel Cencic has been Artistic Director of the Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival. The first edition of the spectacular festival took place despite the corona crisis and was a huge success with the public and the press. 400,000 worldwide viewers followed the broadcasts online and all the performances in Bayreuth were sold out. Max Emanuel Cencic directed the new production of Carlo il Calvo where he also sang the role of Lottario. The production was awarded by the French magazine Forum Opera, best new opera production of the year 2020. In his first season as the artistic director, Max Emanuel Cencic invited world stars such as Joyce DiDonato, Franco Fagioli and Jordi Savall to Bayreuth. He also sang the title role in the concert version of the opera Gismondo re di Polonia by Vinci on the stage of the Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth. 
His extensive touring diary and recording schedule bear witness to the fact that with his singularly beautiful voice, innately musical approach and ability to truly capture audiences, the future is looking bright for Max Emanuel Cencic.
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