Posts Tagged ‘Vivica Genaux’

Even among Vivaldi’s rarely performed operatic works, L’Oracolo in Messenia stands out as an absolute rarity – and the reason is that there is no surviving score. The fact that it has been performed at all is violinist and conductor Fabio Biondi’s creative re-invention based on a patchwork of numbers borrowed mainly from Geminiano Giacomelli (who composed a work on the same libretto), but also from operas by other composers and by Vivaldi himself. Taking a little longer than two hours and based on a libretto full of volte-face, Biondi’s pastiche is entertaining enough, even if it doesn’t avoid the sensation of sameness: all numbers are either arie di bravura or di furore that sound a bit like each other. Vivaldi composed some beautiful meditative and expressive arie, and the libretto would certainly gain in having incorporated some of them for the sake of contrast (isn’t it one of the key concepts of baroque art?).

Biondi conducted his edition in concert in Vienna in 2012 and a CD has been recorded live then. As a celebration of the 60th anniversary of its concert hall, the Prefecture of Kanagawa has invited the Italian conductor and his L’Europa Galante to re-create the concert, this time in full staging. Although the budget seems to have been modest, director Tadashi Miroku made the right choice when he decided to find inspiration in Japanese theatre. In its cleanliness, Izumi Matsuoka’s sets are vaguely reminiscent of Noh; Midori Hagino’s costumes too suggest that tradition, albeit with a splash of Issey MIyake. It is clear that the Personenregie intended to infuse in the cast Japan’s highly aestheticised stock gestures, but either communication problems or limited rehearsal prevented complete success here: some singers seem to have intuitively understood that, while others preferred to do their thing. That – and some amateurism in the production – made an experience that could be illuminating only very interesting.

The cast is basically the same as seen in Vienna, but for three singers. While the CDs treasure Ann Hallenberg’s flashing performance in the key role of Merope, Marianne Beate Kielland – in spite of a more substantial voice – is tamer of temper and not truly adept with Italian language. Her mezzo soprano has a truly pleasant and clean sound and she is stylish and committed, but this repertoire requires real command of the text. Back in Vienna, Romina Basso seemed somehow too formidable as Elmira, while today’s Marina de Liso’s fruity mezzo is more feminine in sound and readier to soften and float mezza voce. It is also rich, vibrant and spacious. Some would say “too much” for Vivaldi. The last replacement is Martina Belli, who takes the bad-guy role of Anassandro, previously cast with Xavier Sabata. There are interesting dark sounds and textual intelligence, but it is still a potential.

Vivica Genaux (Epitide) did not seem to be in her best voice: she sounds less abrasive in the recording. That did not prevent her from tackling difficult coloratura with aplomb and singing expressively and stylishly as always. Although the role of Licisco takes Franziska Gottwald to her limits, she goes to her limits without looking back. An intelligence and compelling performance. Julia Lezhneva appears here in the small role of Trasimede, but gets two showstoppers – one of them Broschi’s Son qual nave (created for Broschi’s brother, Farinelli). Some of her trills seemed to be made exclusively of one note, but other than this that was a Golden-age coruscating coloratura display. As much as in the recording, Magnus Staveland, for all his commitment, is not at home in florid writing, not to mention that his dulcet tenor does not suggest any evil unless distorted in Charaktertenor style.

When it comes to Biondi and the Europa Galante, one can only praise the sense of drama, the wide-ranging tonal colouring, the rhythmic alertness and the virtuoso quality of its strings. Bravi!

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As a great admirer of Handel’s Acis and Galatea, I thought I should give his earlier serenata a chance live at the theatre. It was a busy day and unfortunately I was not in the right mood for it. It is not my favorite work of Handel’s Italian period – and the numbers that I like happened to be “recycled” in more consistent works such as Agrippina or Rinaldo. In any case, this disclaimer is important – maybe in more favourable circumstances I would have enjoyed the performance as much as everybody else in the audience did – applause was so generous that the musicians decided to reprise the last number.

I usually enjoy René Jacobs’s Handel, but I tend to find that his Mozart lacks sensuousness. If I had to define my problem about today’s all-right theatrical performance it would be its lack of sensuousness. The Akademie für alte Musik Berlin played it brilliantly, but the sound was far from warm and appealing. And the extremely fast tempi made the proceedings more formidable than beautiful. Although the work has no overture, if I am not mistaken, Jacobs played the overture of Handel’s Agrippina, a solution already tried before because the tonality and the scoring are compatible with the rest of the work.

Sunhae Im has a lovely personality and technical assurance and the right bell-toned soprano for Aci, but the tonal palette is very restricted and sometimes her voice is similar to a boy soprano’s. Vivica Genaux did not have many opportunities to display her hallmark amazingly fast divisions. Some arias were speeded up to make do, but the result made the non-coloratura passages uninteresting. The lovely Galatea ideally requires a more feminine and beguiling tonal quality even in such a low tessitura. When one compares these singers to Sandrine Piau and Sara Mingardo in Emmanuelle Haïm’s studio recording, it is impossible to overlook the lack of sexiness and warmth this evening. As for Marcos Fink, although he has the low notes, I don’t believe he is the basso profondo Jacobs usually tries to make him be. He took some time to warm and was caught short once or twice during Sibilar l’angui d’Aletto. To my ears, his voice is also too noble for this role, but he certainly dispatched the fioriture with aplomb.

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Rossini’s Semiramide is such a monumental work that many an opera house would rather not bother to stage it. Of course, the libretto requires grandiose sets, but the real challenge is to cast four exceptional singers with absolute technical finish. It is rather curious then that Caramoor, a summer festival that takes place every year in a large estate in the State of New York, has jumped at the opportunity to stage such a fearsome opera.

Since 1997, the Festival has decided to concentrate on bel canto works – and Vivica Genaux has first established her reputation as a Rossinian there. Since then, she is a special guest and I imagine that the whole Semiramide venture has probably been created around her Arsace. Although her mezzo is not heroic as the writing suggests, her hallmark metallic chest register produces the necessary impact in this lower-seating role. Her impressive control of fast fioriture and her musical imagination enable her to decorate every repeat more extravagantly than before without ever trespassing the limits of style and good taste. She also has charisma and attitude to spare in this difficult male role.

Another guest of honor is tenor Lawrence Brownlee, who debuted both his Idreno and Nemorino (in L’ Elisir d’ amore) in this year’s festival. He sung both excruciatingly demanding arias with technical abandon, solid middle and low registers and effortless high notes. He too has impeccable taste – I know that many consider him Juan Diego Florez’s official “second cast”, but I sincerely doubt that the celebrated Peruvian tenor could actually sing the role better than Brownlee.

Assur used to be Samuel Ramey’s signature part and his many recordings have set a performance standard for this role. Although Daniel Mobbs does not exactly reaches this standard, he is probably the singer who has come closer to it. His forceful bass is extremely flexible, well-focused, dark, generous in its lower reaches and firm in its top notes. The sound is a bit noble for this villain role, but that is something one could say of Ramey too.

Angela Meade is something like America’s hidden secret in the world of opera. I have read about her for a while; the usual comment is “wonderful material, but still not ready” – something I could never say after seeing her Semiramide. It is clear that she has the potential to do something even more amazing than tonight; she is a young singer who has chosen roles carefully, but what she is already doing is enough to procure her the rank of the very best in the market. I feel like using the label “golden age”. The voice itself is extremely appealing – hers is a legitimate lirico spinto, creamy toned in a Margaret Price-like way with added Italianate qualities such as squillante top notes and rock-solid bottom register. When she unleashes her voice, it can be quite voluminous and, in the next moment, she dazzles in perfectly articulated coloratura, easy trills, floated mezza voce. And she also has natural feeling for the Italian language – and clear diction. Although her temper is not flashing, she knows how to seize the occasion when a dramatic emphasis is required from her. I found her phrasing expressive, she produced real seduction in Serbami ognor, grandeur in her duet with Assur and finally she was really touching in her second duet with Arsace, when she also proved to master the art of blending her voice with fellow singers. I cannot wait to see and hear her again.

Will Crutchfield is an expert in bel canto repertoire – he keeps rhythm flowing, plays all the theatrical effects and has an excellent ear to find the right pace for his singers and to help them when they need an attentive beat. Ideally, the score needs a larger group than the Orchestra of St. Luke’ s, which at moments seemed a bit strained with the effort of having to play at 100% in a long opera, but considering the acoustics (the Venetian Theatre is an open-air stage covered with a large tent, under which the audience is also seated), a chamber-like orchestra was the best idea. And these musicians played with real gusto and very much shared the dramatic atmosphere with the soloists. The small Festival chorus has also done a commendable job. I hope someone has recorded this performance – I am sure that someday one would regard it as highly as that recorded in other Summer festival in France some years ago .

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