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Vivica Genaux's Fireworks

available at Amazon
Pyrotechnics: Vivaldi, Opera Arias, V. Genaux, Europa Galante, F. Biondi

(released on December 8, 2009)
Virgin Classics 694573 0 2
In a recent interview, Alaska-born mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux admitted that she has always had "a knack for melismas." An understatement, to be sure, but it captures the pleasure of listening to her new disc of Vivaldi arias, some of the most daunting, virtuosic challenges ever conceived for the human voice. The thrill of singing this music, Genaux says, is "like driving a race car at fast speeds on the highway," and indeed the sense of peril comes through every time one hears Genaux reach the end of a rolling roulade of notes and seize a breath. Genaux's manner of singing all those notes so fast and so accurately, involving a rapid fluctuation of her lips, may look strange, but it is hard to argue with the results.

Although not all of the selections on this CD are arias created for castrati, many qualities of Genaux's unusual voice -- a quasi-male tone in the chest voice, a burred edge to the sound, endless breath support, and the ability to punch high notes -- make Genaux a more credible stand-in for that (happily) lost voice type than Cecilia Bartoli, whose castrato album (heard but not reviewed at Ionarts) was smothered under an unavoidable blanket of publicity at its release. As heard in Genaux's contribution to that remarkable recording of Vivaldi's Atenaide, where she sang the castrato role of the Emperor Teodosio, the technique for fast passage work is unparalleled, making the fast arias and the ornamented parts of the slow ones breath-taking listening. The disc also reunites Genaux with Fabio Biondi and his period-instrument ensemble Europa Galante, after a memorable collaboration on Vivaldi's Bajazet, and the instrumental playing is poised, richly varied, and at times sensuously distracting from the voice (as in the final track, with the flutes of Sin nel placido soggiorno, from an unknown opera).

Your next opportunity to hear Vivica Genaux in person will be the spring performance of Washington Concert Opera, not Baroque opera but her other specialty, the bel canto repertory, in this case the title role of Rossini's La Cenerentola (May 9, 6 pm), at Lisner Auditorium.


Akimon Azuki said...

There have been quite a few pyrotechnical Baroque recitals released lately: to my ears, Bartoli and Genaux discs are solid and entertaining, but I find Karina Gauvin's "Porpora Arias" and Simon Kermes's "Lava" to be much more impressive, the latter coming across as demented, in the best possible way.

One correction though: Genaux was not the artist who provided the base for digitally created voice of the great castrato in the "Farinelli" movie, if that's what you meant; that was done using the voices of countertenor Derek Lee Ragin and soprano Ewa Mallas-Godlewska.

Charles T. Downey said...

Gauvin and Kermes are both wonderful singers, agreed. Not sure why I thought Genaux worked on "Farinelli," but I have deleted that parenthesis.