“The Wonder of Vivica Genaux“
AN INSTANT CLASSIC!
“…seems to surpass nature
in her representation
of the nightingale.”
A Grammy© Award Nominee:
Best Classical Vocal Performance”
harmonia mundi – HMC 901778 
Apparently, René Jacobs has waited twenty years for this special voice, in order to produce this recording. On the other hand, mankind has had to wait two hundred twenty years for Vivica Genaux, dating from that 16th of September 1782, when the greatest singer of his day died in Bologna: Carlo Broschi, called Farinelli. Until today there has hardly been a singer capable of bringing to life this music suitably embellished and executed cleanly with fantastic coloratura singing. In addition to the composer’s creativity, the music requires superb technique. Suddenly there is someone, Vivica Genaux, who accomplishes all these things with facility, and surpasses every expectations.
Vivica Genaux, who comes from Alaska, sings with appealing, breathtaking diction; she expresses herself warmly, and barely seems to breathe: Trills are always placed perfectly in the phrases, not to be the trick of a virtuoso, but sung as a true musical “Ambassador”. In Giacomelli’s “Quell’ usignolo”, Vivica Genaux not only soars above the orchestra, but seems to surpass nature in her representation of the nightingale.
- RJB, Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany) May 14, 2002
A MEZZO IS BORN: INVIGORATING!
“The American mezzo Vivica Genaux makes her harmonia mundi recording debut while resurrecting Farinelli.
Beware: Cecilia Bartoli had better be careful. Her new competitor, who could seriously make the Italian diva feel nervous, is named Vivica Genaux. She is American and has just released a recital CD entitled “Arias for Farinelli”. She is a mezzo, like Bartoli, a Rossini specialist, like Bartoli, and stupefying… like no one else! Vivica Genaux has temporarily let go of “Cenerentola” and “Barbiere” in order to follow the advice of her Pygmalion, René Jacobs, who had been looking for the past several years for “the” Farinelli voice. The result: a disc of pure vocal panache, filled with what the most dazzling ornamented singing has to offer. One wonders what animal is hiding in that voice and what regimen was able to produce such technique. Finally, the program, made up of works by Porpora, Broschi, Giacomelli and Hasse will ravish all Handel and Vivaldi aficionados…”
-Jérémie Rousseau, Classica (France) April 2002
…Obviously no ordinary mezzo-soprano will do. But VIVICA GENAUX is no ordinary singer. With a background in Rossini, she boasts breathtaking agility, an extraordinarily wide range, and great tonal consistency between chest and head voice. But singing the written notes is only half the battle. Singers of Farinelli’s calibre enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the composer; at each performance they became co-creators, ornamenting and re-writing the da capos according to their own flights of fancy. But nothing is left to chance here, and Genaux’s extensive ornamentation has all been carefully researched by René Jacobs. The big surprise, though, is that the results are more expressive and less gratuitously titillating than we might expect. Jacobs and Genaux are interested in intensifying the text rather than playing to the gallery. And this makes for deeply satisfying listening, especially as these little known arias by Porpora, Hasse and Broschi are so well written. How close we actually get to the legendary artistry of Farinelli himself is difficult to say, but the dazzling bird-song aria from Giacomelli’s opera Merope brings us within a whisker: the version sung here includes Farinelli’s own fiendish ornamentation (with seven cadenzas, no less!) — a snap shot of what his audiences might have heard on a single night back in 1734.
- Simon Heighes, BBC Radio3 (UK) July 6, 2002
With a voice that has a long range, darkness and agility, [Vivica Genaux] indeed possesses the material and technical ability to face these bravura pieces, especially as she is teaming up with René Jacobs, whose talent as a conductor is only matched by his knowledge of voices and of the history of singing.
- François Lafon, Le Monde de la Musique (France) June 2002
GENAUX’S TRILL: perhaps the best in the business today
…the performances by mezzo soprano Vivica Genaux and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin under René Jacobs are of the highest quality. Genaux’s voice frequently puts the listener in mind of Marilyn Horne’s early recordings.
… In an era when we so often read of a singer who “lacks a real trill,” Genaux’s is remarkably clean, perhaps the best in the business today. She is especially noteworthy for her facility in wide leaps and arpeggios. These are on such ample display in the first section of an excerpt from Idaspe, by Riccardo Broschi (brother of Farinelli), that we can only wonder what she could possibly add in the da capo repeat. Quite a bit more, it turns out. Yet she is not the type to call attention to her gifts; an eye-popping leap up a seventh in another Broschi aria is all the more effective because it is not telegraphed.
And Genaux is also a virtuoso in calmer music. In an aria from Porpora’s Polifemo, she traces the shapes of lines with a agreat variety of stresses yet never loses the forward progression, and in Hasse’s “Per questo dolce amplesso” from Artaserse, she weighs the expressive potential of each interval. (In an elegant bit of programming, we are also offered an aria Porpora wrote for a revival of Artaserse, though it turns out to e quite conventional.)
Best of all is an excerpt from Geminiano Giacomelli’s Adriano in Siria. Here, Genaux shows how the da capo form ought to work. She is attentive to the various ways in which the B section contrasts with the A section (in this case, how the clouds lift), and these qualities inform the repeat of the A section. A musical repeat should never be an emotional repeat, and Genaux makes this clear.
– William R. Braun, Opera News October 2002
This disc reinforces Ms. Genaux’s status as one of today’s leading performers in such repertoire.
Throughout this recital, Vivica Genaux sings Farinelli’s virtuoso music with admirable confidence and ease. The rapid-fire scales, intervals, and trills are negotiated with extraordinary accuracy. The legato in cantilena passages is exemplary, enhanced by the singer’s attractive tone and varied palette of dynamics and vocal colors. And as with any outstanding singer, Ms. Genaux uses her technical mastery not for mere display, but as the means for singing of expressiveness and dramatic intensity.
This kind of first-rate vocalism and musicianship may be found throughout Arias for Farinelli. Vivica Genaux is ably partnered by René Jacobs and the period-instrument Akademie für Alte Musik, who provide incisive and nuanced accompaniments, as well as a fine performance of Baldassare Galuppi’s instrumental Concerto a 4 in C minor. The recorded sound is superb, with a warm, natural acoustic and a realistic balance between the performers.
In short, Arias for Farinelli is a first-class production on all levels. It is certainly one of the finest vocal releases of 2002 and, by year’s end, could very well move to the top of my list.”
- Ken Meltzer, classicalCD review.com September 2002
A COOL DISPLAY OF VOCAL FIREWORKS
In the pop music world, album release dates are anticipated and hyped; in classical music, they often pass nearly unnoticed. But last week, Harmonia Mundi France released a classical album that truly deserved the term “long-awaited.” Arias for Farinelli, showcasing the Alaskan mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux and the Belgian early-music conductor René Jacobs, came out in Europe in April to huge acclaim, generating eager anticipation of its release in the United States.
Thanks to advances in scholarship, the flowering of the early-music movement and a rather indifferent movie in 1994, Farinelli, the great 18th-century castrato, has had a sort of renaissance in recent years. To him are ascribed nearly incredible vocal powers: a sweet tone with the range of a woman’s voice and the strength of a man’s; superb technique and breath support that enabled him to negotiate great musical leaps in a single bound.
In the absence of recordings, the only concrete evidence lies in the repertory he sang, written at a time when composers literally tailored opera arias to singers. The arias here (by Porpora, Hasse, Giacomelli and Farinelli’s brother, Riccardo Broschi) call for a huge range, a reliable trill and the ability to execute complex ornamentation — indicated, in one case, by Farinelli himself.
Ms. Genaux may not yet have attained the eminence of Farinelli, but she possesses a trait that is all too rare, even among so-called Baroque specialists: the ability to negotiate a fiendishly difficult bout of vocal fireworks accurately, on pitch and with a sense of enjoyment rather than abject terror. There’s a husky note to her amber voice, coloring it richly, from gutsy low notes to flowing freedom on top. But in terms of nuance and delicacy of musical utterance, Mr. Jacobs and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin even trump the singer; the group’s vibrant playing would do honor to any vocal performance. On first hearing, this one sounds like a keeper.
- Anne Midgette, NY Times September 15, 2002
GENAUX IS STRIKING EVEN SANS HANDEL (Highest rating)
The latest singer to join the seemingly endless ranks of first-rate mezzo-sopranos is the Alaskan-born Vivica Genaux, who has made a splash elsewhere with her performances of Rossini and various Baroque composers, but has yet to be heard in these parts. This superb recital disc makes clear just how much we’ve been missing.
Genaux’s gifts would seem to be prodigious, beginning with a voice of striking warmth and beauty and a formidable level of rhythmic mastery and breath control. Just as notable is the evenness and fluidity of her tone throughout her entire range; the top notes sound as full-bodied and precisely placed as the lowest. Add in a command of Baroque style that allows her to sing the most grueling music with utmost naturalness, and the results are phenomenal.
The arias included here were written for the great 18th century castrato Farinelli, and they attest once again to his amazing abilities, not only in executing florid ornamentation but in sustaining long-breathed phrases and shaping elegant melodies as well.
What’s striking about Genaux’s choices, however, is that she has assiduously avoided anything by Handel, the most famous composer to write for Farinelli. Instead, she delivers music by Porpora, Hasse, Broschi and Giacomelli — all but the last composers from the very top of the second rank. It’s good to hear this music, especially done so ravishingly, but I couldn’t help wishing she had thrown in a little Handel, if only as an encore.
- Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle September 22, 2002
THE must-have CD of the year!
Packaged like the crown jewels, “Arias for Farinelli” showcases the beautiful baroque vocal talents of Vivica Genaux, making it THE must-have CD of the year. Finding Truth in the superficial by fearlessly flaunting the anachronistic, this completely and unapologetically rarified portrait, drawn from a vocal profile of the legendary castrato Farinelli by Franz Herböck, makes it seem as if Genaux’s voice is detached from her body, creating a glorious fetish whereby she embodies a hermaphroditic dream in her pursuit of the perfect trill.
This fetish is allowed to exist thanks to the uncannily correct instrumentation in support of her full and rounded lower notes by René Jacobs and his Alte Musik of Berlin. Jacobs’ decorations are strict and precise, even when being flippant and witty. His solo interpretation of Gallupi’s Concerto No. 4 is one long forlorn sigh, and believably emotional.
Of the vocals, the following were observed. In Porpora’s “Orfeo” selections, Genaux is a little deep in the chest, before letting the lyric loose like a bird in flight. On Porpora’s “Polifemo” selection, she floats like an angel above the tangibly inevitable atmosphere that Jacobs creates. Her work on Broschi is of declamations and embellishments, admirably enunciated in flinging herself off the highest registers with butch bravado. Vivica’s take on “Dolci Freschi Aurette” is light in timbre, essentially lyric, sweet and direct. She makes “Per Questo Dolce Amplesso” an art for art’s sake statement that she lovingly caresses. Her interpretations of Giacomelli are the best of the best: possessed of a conventional recitative, the flute and the voice in the upper registers, and the cello and the voice in the lower become as one before she soars off. In particular, her “Quell’ usignolo” is beguilingly charming.
One hopes to hear more of this tomboyish talent in the near future as she explores her possibilities. As it is, Harmonia Mundi has bestowed much love and care on her saucy and gay recording that is that rarest of items, the instant classic.
- Charles Lonberger, The CD Corner, Beverly Hills Outlook (http://www.bhoutlook.us/cd.html) September 2002
The American mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux might not quite match Farinelli’s legendary full, brilliant sound, but the hair-raising roulades, trills and enormously wide leaps hold no terrors for her. The performances, directed by René Jacobs, are stylish and expressive, as well as pyrotechnically breathtaking.
- Elizabeth Roche, The Daily Telegraph(UK), June 1, 2002
Amazingly, the Alaskan mezzo Vivica Genaux here reels off a few of [Farinelli's] favourite arias without apparent effort.
- Night and Day, The Mail on Sunday (UK), June 2, 2002
This clutch of arias was written expressly for the renowned castrato Farinelli by composers who were his contemporaries–leading exponents of opera seria at the time of its fullest bloom, about 1725-1775. Thus the music is Rococo in style but is not, as one might expect, flimsy, vapid, and simplistic. Rather, we hear fresh, engaging, often thrilling music, brought vividly to life by Genaux, Jacobs, and friends. Several of these arias have not been previously recorded. Their text concentrate on amorous or acadian matters, as would be anticipated in opera seria of the day, and most are in da capo form.
The virtuoso pieces are replete with wide leaps, trills and such, runs of all sorts arpeggios, sudden and extreme changes of register, long held notes, cadenzas, etc. which suggest that Farinelli must indeed have been the vocal equivalent of Paganini. None of this seems to faze the fearless Vivica Genaux in the least, who evidently relishes these challenges. Several sostenuto arias display her expressive capabilities as well.
Her voice is a fairly typical mezzo-soprano, neither a soprano nor an alto in timbre. A low F-sharp to G-sharp, following a plethora of tones up in the soprano range, sounds quite full and very well placed (in ‘Qual Guerriero’ by Riccardo Broschi, Farinelli’s older brother). She handles the vocal acrobatics impressively, sometimes startlingly–a testimony to her admirably supple and disciplined technique.
Balance between soloist and orchestra could not be better. The ensemble plays immaculately; René Jacobs has prepared a veritable Rococo feast for the ears. Galuppi’s curious Concerto a 4 in C minor (slow-fast-slow) for orchestra alone proves to be a composition of uncommon interest and expressive content. Recorded sound is superior and annotations include two extensive essays. The second of these, by Jacobs, discusses the many considerations, artistic and otherwise, relevant to the castrato voices of the 18th Century. This unusual deluxe release merits an enthusiastic recommendation.
- American Record Guide, September/October 2002
Farinelli possessed astounding technique, legendary tonal beauty, and was an unsurpassed master of embellishment. Come to think of it, that also describes Genaux’s singing on this recording. Her voice is cocoa dark with a wonderful, full bottom and a nice ping on top. She’s also very well suited to the repertoire, some of which is rather obscure. There are heaps of stunning singing here. Her breathless cantabile line in ‘Ombra fedele anch’io,’ written by Farinelli’s brother, Riccardo Broschi is textbook perfect. Genaux is equally impressive in the more extroverted music, like Geminiano Giacomelli’s ‘Quell’usignolo,’ dipping into her bag of ornamentation to spin off rollercoaster roulades and a whiplash-inducing trill. Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, the accompanying ensemble, provide vibrant support throughout…
- Craig Zeichner, Early Music America, Fall 2002
Artistic Quality 10 / Sound Quality 10
You may remember that movie a few years back about the legendary castrato Farinelli. The voice used in the film was an artificial composite of two real voices, the idea being to make it sound somehow otherworldly, as we might imagine a true castrato would have sounded. But when you have voices around such as the one possessed by Vivica Genaux, all that fussing with digital fakery registers as just so much foolishness. American mezzo-soprano Genaux has a voice and technique that certainly are otherworldly–in the best imaginable sense–but she’s also definitely rooted in flesh-and-blood reality. Get ready, voice fans–this is an amazing CD, and these performances set the standard by which all future interpreters of this repertoire will be measured.
You can use all the clichés and vocal technical terms that describe greatness–dazzling, daring, fluid, focused, seamless, fearless, tonal consistency and accuracy of pitch across registers, etc.–and they all apply. Although countertenors have typically claimed the territory represented by these florid and challenging 18th-century arias, Genaux, with her astounding agility, vivid color, and solid, sustained power that underlies every note, ornament, and run from top to bottom, shows why this material actually sits and feels better in the command of a mezzo–admittedly a very special one! Her stamina alone is remarkable as she simply vanquishes one 8- or 10-minute aria after another. Through all the notes–and there probably are more notes per second of music here than on any other vocal disc ever made!–she maintains interpretive sense and expressive composure.
Sure this music is for show, but it also needs unfailing attention to technique and a believable dramatic foundation. Again, Genaux doesn’t disappoint. Only in the super-human speed of her rendition of Riccardo Broschi’s “Qual guerriero in campo armato” (from Idaspe) do we sense that perhaps a little moderation would have been kinder–not only to Genaux but to us listeners as well (“Is she going to make it?”). Among the nearly continuous “highlights” are some really lovely singing in Porpora’s Polifemo aria, with exquisitely turned and trilled ornaments, and one section of Hasse’s “Or la nube procellosa” that shows singer and orchestra in stunning, perfectly judged imitative ornamental effects. And what deliciously rich tones Genaux produces in her lower register in the following aria from Hasse’s Artaserse!
René Jacobs is a superb accompanist and his orchestra is a marvel of ensemble precision, gorgeous tone, and when required, scintillating energy to match Genaux’s. The sound couldn’t be better, and the whole irresistible package is completed with thoughtful, informative notes on castrati in general, Farinelli in particular, and on the music and performers. Listeners should note that the final aria–an absolutely jaw-dropping display of vocal artistry–begins with a recitative that’s not included in the printed texts. What else can I say, except that hearing is believing?
- David Vernier, classicstoday.com July 10, 2002
As she fearlessly navigates the heights and depths of the profusely ornamented arias written specifically for Farinelli she demonstrates a range, agility and musicianship of exceptional quality. Genaux has an instrument that is often reminiscent of the great Marilyn Horne, with a dark, alluring tone that has great power, especially in the lower register.
Make no mistake, this is no disembodied, sexless sound, rather a full-blooded use of a voice that is sure to become much better known.
- Tony Way, Sunday Herald – Classical (Australia) May 19, 2002
She has an outstanding lyric voice – rich, warm and flexible throughout its wide-ranging compass…
- Hugh Canning, Sunday Times (London) May 26, 2002
… this is a most significant recording. Alaskan-born mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux salutes the Italian castrato soprano Carlo Broschi detto Farinelli by faultlessly singing eight arias he performed during his stellar career.
- Bob Crimeen, Sunday Herald Sun, Edition 1 (Australia) May 19, 2002
We have here a recording of his (Farinelli’s) repertoire, which not only meets the highest technical demands, but also tells us much about the music and how its virtuoso arias were interpreted in the spirit of his time: with fascinatingly light and incredibly clear trills, a wonderfully articulated lower register, faultless flexibility in the higher register, with discriminating cadenzas sung in one breath.
The light, cool virtuosity of the soloist is equaled in many arias with the warmth of the conducting of René Jacobs.
- Carston Niemann, RONDO (Germany) May 9, 2002
You learn way more about Farinelli from this new cd of the fabulously showy arias written for his extraordinary voice; the notes are fascinating, and it’s quite possible that the American mezzo Vivica Genaux’s unusual voice and technical skills get us much closer to the original. A great vehicle for the Alaskan-born mezzo whose cd of Arias for Farinelli includes real rarities by Porpora, Hasse and Giacomelli as well.
René Jacobs directs the Berlin Academy of Ancient Music, and he also supplies some of the fascinating notes on Farinelli and the culture of the castrato. Far better value than that dodgy film…and fantastic singing too.
- BBC Radio 3, Saturday (UK) May 11, 2002
…it seems fitting to have Farinelli – the most famous castrato ever – impersonated by a contralto, especially when she is as expressive and agile a singer as Vivica Genaux. All the pieces are wonders of lyrical embellishment, and one or two are genuinely moving.
- Ivan Hewett, Play, The Times (UK) May 11-17, 2002
The American mezzo Vivica Genaux is a major star in the making….coupled with Jacobs’ stylish accompaniment, Genaux’s faultless presentation of this richly ornamented music easily overcomes any risks in the repertoire.
- Andrew Clarke, The Information, The Independent (UK) May 11-17, 2002
Genaux’s bright, clean, firm tone and fluid technique make remarkably light work of the hoop-la…
- Anna Picard, The Independent on Sunday (UK) May 12, 2002
This new CD from the brilliant American mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, serves up a dazzling selection of party pieces associated with the celebrated castrato. And she is totally up to the task. The lowish tessitura does not phase Genaux; she shifts gears into chest voice and back again and zings out division after division with a facility and confidence that rivals Marilyn Horne in her absolute prime. Centerpiece of the disc is Riccardo Broschi’s aria “Qual guerriero in campo armato,” an eight-minute torrent of saber-rattling, testosterone-spurting fioratura. Goaded on by conductor René Jacob’s daunting tempi, Ms. Genaux bares her teeth and tears into those black notes like a tiger.”
- gaycitynews.com July 1, 2002
“Riccardo BROSCHI (c. 1701-1756): Idaspe: “Qual guerriero in campo armato”
In this sample release offered by harmonia mundi, an excerpt from a forgotten opera by this (mostly) forgotten composer…It’s a dazzler, one of those “rise and shine” trumpet-and-rapid-division vehicles. Genaux, who made her initial impression in Rossini revivals, has been quoted as turning her interest to the baroque composers. To judge from this single excerpt, her attention will be much to the baroque’s advantage. In short, Genaux, whose timbre and vocal production are somewhat reminiscent of Horne’s in her youth, shows herself a vocalist of achievement and even more potential.
- Calvin M. Goodwin, MusicWeb.UK, Wednesday, May 22, 2002