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Beauty of Timbre

Vivica Genaux
sings Vivaldi -
heard by

'Genaux's diction is excellent ...'

Vivica Genaux - Vivaldi Pyrotechnics - Europa Galante - Fabio Biondi. © 2009 EMI Records Ltd / Virgin Classics

On this disc, Vivica Genaux, the mezzo-soprano from Alaska who now lives in Venice, sings music of that city's most famous composer, Antonio Vivaldi. Since she is well known for her ability to sing the most fiendishly difficult coloratura with seeming ease, recording Vivaldi makes a great deal of sense. She can sing arias that have rarely, if ever, been recorded and present them to an audience that is hungry for new material.

In 1678, when Antonio Vivaldi was born, it was not certain that he would live. When he began to grow stronger, his family dedicated him to the Church. As a result, he did not have much of a choice of profession. He did well as a priest and church musician, however, and he taught at Venice's Ospedale della Pietà. When his fame as a musician brought in offers to perform in other cities as well, he started concertizing. Eventually he also composed opera, which was the most important musical genre of his time.

His Catone in Utica, which has a libretto by Metastasio, was the work commissioned to open the city of Verona's brand new Teatro Filarmonico on 26 May 1737. Genaux and Fabio Biondi's Europa Galante open the concert with two of the arias given to Pompey's wife, Emilia.

Listen -- Come in vano il mare irato
(track 1, 3:17-4:03) © 2009 EMI Records Ltd / Virgin Classics

In the first, 'Come in vano il mare irato', she vows vengeance and plunges directly into vividly imaginative pyrotechnics. The aria has huge intervals which Genaux manages readily and during which her voice retains its beauty of timbre. In 'Nella foresta', Emilia laments her misfortune with a relatively simple exposition that allows the singer to utilize her darkest jewel-like colorings.

Composed to a libretto by Francesco Silvani and Domenico Lalli for performance during the 1732 carnival season, Semiramide was first seen at the Archducal Theatre in Mantua. Zoroastro's aria 'E prigionero e re' gives us an idea of the best in eighteenth century rhythmic inflection. Here the singer is proclaiming strength of heart in defeat. You can feel the character's dignity in Genaux's interpretation.

In La fida ninfa, the mezzo sings Licori's aria 'Alma oppressa' describing the pain in her heart with a plethora of well placed ornaments and some of the shortest possible notes. Later, she sings Morasto's aria 'Destin avaro', an aria di furore written for a castrato who wanted to show his amazing ability with coloratura. Genaux's diction is excellent and even with all the fioriture, runs and trills, her words are understandable throughout.

Listen -- Agitata da due venti
(track 4, 0:27-1:11) © 2009 EMI Records Ltd / Virgin Classics

Griselda's aria 'Agitata da due venti' gives us a musical picture of winds blowing white capped waves towards a sailing ship from two different directions. With the utmost in technical assurance, Genaux sings a tour de force of rapid fire passages without any apparent loss of breath. The title role in the opera Griselda was written for Anna Girò with whom Vivaldi was suspected of having a quiet affair because they sometimes traveled together. She must have been a spectacular singer.

'Il labbro ti lusinga' offers a bit of calm and a beautiful melody augmented by simple decoration of its graceful line. This piece lets the genuine beauty of the mezzo voice be heard completely unfettered. 'Vibro il ferro', from the 1727 opera Ipermestra, again brings us back to the land of pyrotechnics and they are incredible here. Some of Genaux's most resonant tones are quite low. Most mezzos tend to lose resonance as they descend the scale, but she even gains it at times.

Vivaldi's opera Farnace was a tremendous hit when it was premièred at Venice's Teatro Sant' Angelo during the carnival season of 1727. It then traveled to several other cities in what is now Italy and even to far off Prague.

Listen -- Quell' Usignolo
(track 8, 5:05-6:04) © 2009 EMI Records Ltd / Virgin Classics

In the aria 'Quell' Usignolo', Gilade says that falling in love does not denote weakness in a warrior, and he goes on to sing of the nightingale searching for his love in the dark woods. Here, the strings begin to imitate the bird calls and the singer ornaments modestly at first. Most interesting is the way she sometimes hits a note straight on, holds it for a moment and then begins to add ornamentation. In Farnace's own aria 'Ricordate che sei regina' he calls upon his wife to remember her dignity, even if it means she can only maintain it by suicide. Needless to say, this is a place for the artist to show the world the extent of her virtuosity. Genaux gives us a large helping of ornamentation that may take several hearings to completely encompass.

'Splender fra'l cieco orror' is from the second version of the 1720 opera, Tito Manlio. Here, in one of the composer's earlier operas, Servilla is optimistic and remembers that she will once again enjoy the beauty of the sunset. As with many composers, Vivaldi learned to write more effectively for singers as time went on. The aria, 'Vorrei dirti il mio dolore' from Rosmira fedele, written many years later, is much more graceful in its ability to deliver the poignant text.

'Sin nel placido soggiorno' is an aria with a truly memorable melody to begin with and a graceful middle section that shows the vocal technique and breath control of the singer. It brings the recording to an exquisite close with a calming, broad melody describing the beauties of the Elysian Fields.

Listen -- Sin nel placido soggiorno
(track 13, 0:28-1:25) © 2009 EMI Records Ltd / Virgin Classics

This EMI Limited/Virgin Classics recording conducted by violin virtuoso Fabio Biondi was made between the seventeenth and twenty-third of December 2008, in the library of the San Giovanni Monastery in Parma, Italy. It has clear, consistent, well-balanced sound that makes listening a pleasure. It comes with a booklet that translates the arias into four languages and contains an interesting background article but gives little information about the performers.

Copyright © 23 December 2009 Maria Nockin,
Arizona USA









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