If Only Nightingales Could Sing as Well: Vivica Genaux at Carnegie Hall

United StatesUnited States A.Vivaldi, P.Nardini, P. Locatelli:Vivica Genaux (mezzo-soprano), Europa Galante (Fabio Biondi (conductor and violin), Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York City, 2.2.2012 (SSM)

Quell’usignolo, from Farnace, RV 711
Vorrei dirti il mio dolore, from Rosmira, RV 731
P. Nardini – Violin Concerto in A Major, Op. 1, No. 1
A. Vivaldi – Splender fra’l cieco orror, from Tito Manlio, RV 738
Alma oppressa, from La fida ninfa, RV 714
Concerto in A Minor for Two Violins, Strings and
Continuo, from L’estro armonico, Op. 3, No. 8
E prigioniero e re, from Semiramide, RV 733
Come in vano il mare irato, from Catone in Utica, RV 705
P. Locatelli – Concerto grosso in E-flat Major, Op. 7, No. 6, “Il pianto d’Arianna”
A. Vivaldi – Agitata da due venti, from L’Adelaide (RV 695)/Griselda (RV 718)

G. Giacomelli – Sposa son disprezzata, from Vivaldi’s pasticcio Bajazet (RV 703)
R. Broschi Qual guerriero in campo armato, from Vivaldi’s pasticcio Bajazet (RV 703)


Vivica Genaux Courtesy of Carnegie Hall

If the orchestra had not left the stage and the lights had not come up, the audience would have happily stayed for more. The already lengthy recital started at 7:30 PM and continued till close to 10:00, but people showed little inclination to leave their seats except to stand up and applaud Vivica Genaux’s final encore, “Qual guerriero in campo armato.”  This signature piece, written by Riccardo Broschi for his brother Carlo (aka Farinelli) and included in Vivaldi’s Bajazet, demonstrates what one might think the human voice could not achieve. Excluding perhaps Bel Canto it was not until Giacinto Scelsi’s Canti del Capricorno, written in the 1960’s, that anyone tried to push the human voice to its limit. At one point in the aria, a melisma written on the first vowel of “battaglia” continued with sixteenth-notes for thirteen measures. If Ms. Genaux found a way to breathe during this aria it was not evident. There were no tricks here or in any of arias. She avoids using the aspirates sometimes employed by singers who can’t quite get out all the written notes, and the result is uninterrupted long legatos that are crucial for the arias’ success.

From R. Broschi “Qual guerriero in campo armato”, from Vivaldi’s pasticcio Bajazet (RV 703):

The evening’s program consisted of short instrumental works of the Italian Baroque interspersed with arias from Vivaldi’s operas. The opening Sinfonia revealed a considerably more laid-back Fabio Biondi than I’ve seen and heard in the past. Biondi and Europa Galante have certainly held their own in the unspoken internecine contest of Italian Baroque groups (Concerto Italiano, Venice Baroque Orchestra and Il Giardino Armonico) as to who can play the fastest. The two dominating Italian groups of the 1970’s and 1980’s, I Musici and Il Solisti Veneti, were well intentioned advocates for the Italian Baroque but made little attempt to distinguish their performance style from that of other periods. The result was music that was played too slowly and sounded thick and stodgy.

Most of the recent Italian groups have often gone overboard in the opposite direction. What I Musici performed in twelve minutes, Il Gardino Armonico completed in eight. Here the Vivaldi concerto for two violins did not seem rushed and was played immaculately by Biondi and group member Andrea Ragnoni. Sounding at times like Bach’s own double concerto written twenty years later, this concerto’s difficulties were sloughed off with an elegant panache. The Locatelli concerto grosso, a throwback to the multi-movement concerti of Legrenzi, Stradella and Uccellini, received a brisk but not overly so reading of the fast movements and delicate, sensitive interpretations of the slow ones. Written a generation after Vivaldi, the violin concerto by Nardini is a delightful little gem, composed in the 1760s and played with a judicious use of vibrato by Biondi (but not by the strings): another example, perhaps, of a more mellowed Biondi.

In Vivaldi’s time, it was not unusual to borrow from one’s own works or steal works from other composers. Without having access to the urtext, one can never be certain who wrote what. The first aria of the evening, “Quell’usignolo,” from Farnace, is particularly confusing with regard to its provenance. It was either written by Vivaldi as stated in the program notes, or by Giacomelli as presented in Ms. Genaux’s CD “Arias for Farenelli.” Regardless of who wrote it, no nightingale could sing like Ms. Genaux or cover her wide vocal range.

The high point of the evening was the aria “Come in vano” from Vivaldi’s Cantone in Utica. This amazing piece of vocal magic is a virtual non-stop display of leaps, trills, runs and arpeggios. Ms. Genaux’s voice stayed consistently steady through her amazing tessitura, reaching deep down in her chest for the low notes and smoothly running up to the higher ranges without a bit of strain.

Along with her superb voice, what remains in my head is Ms. Genaux’s sparkling presentation. Not restrained by the conventions of performing in an opera, Ms. Genaux put her entire soul into each aria, swaying and shimmying as if she were given license to do whatever she felt. This joy spread contagiously through the audience, evincing Ms. Genaux’s miraculous voice, Biondi’s and his orchestra’s top-notch skills and the remarkable creativity of Vivaldi and his contemporaries.

Stan Metzger