Can Belto

On the art of singing and those who practice it…

Vivica + Vivaldi = Ecstasy

To listen to excerpts and/or buy click here

I finally got my copy of  the new recording of Vivaldi arias  with Vivica Genaux and Europa Galante under the baton of Fabio Biondy. The album is appropriately titled Pyrotechnics; and OMG, there is enough pyrotechnics delivered to fill a  4th  of July celebration.

The recording showcases Genaux’s ample gifts in a collection of 13 opera arias, some recorded for the first time, all revolving around the art or coloratura as a means of expression. Genaux delivers with such gusto, bravura and poise the recording is a joy to to listen to.  Is this artist capable of putting out a bad recording? Like Arlene Auger before her, it seems impossible. This recording is so fantastic, I am going to run out of adjectives quickly and fall into cliches, mostly because they work.

Now, before I fall over singing praises for this wonderful artist, I must talk about the other artists who also participate in the recording. Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante are just as impressive as Genaux. I loved the sound that Europa Galante makes!  In contrast to other conductor’s (and ensembles) thin, unsupported orchestral colors delivered in an earlier than thou attitude, Europa Galante’s sound is full, luscious, gorgeous. They sound like a full out orchestra; I would have never guessed I was listening to 15 players. They played with such care and love I am sure making this recording was not a chore for Genaux. These are artists of a high level and their contribution to the success of this recording should not be taken for granted. BRA – VI.

As a rule, I do not necessarily believe that music from the Baroque  and XIXth century should be performed with too much of a contrast, save for stylistic differences, like the approach to ornamentation. Romantic music did not spring fully formed in the XIXth century after all. Composers of earlier times did not make a distinction when casting their works. There was no early music scene during Handel’s,  Mozart’s or Vivaldi’s time. They used and cast the best available opera singers of the time. This doesn’t mean that I do not see a benefit in having specialists in this area of the repertoire, specially given the fact that many conductors who specialize in the music of the ottocento are completely incapable of realizing that music is so much more than what is written on the paper.  Vivica Genaux is the perfect example of an artist who can navigate both sides of the divide. She does not adopt a different sound for when she sings Rossini or Vivaldi. As singers of the past did, she uses her voice and adapts the style to her voice. I can only wish that we would get more artists like her, who can do both styles credibly without a need to go off the voice or adopt a mannered, unsupported or cutesy sound just because they are singing Bach, Handel, Vivaldi or Mozart.

The disc opens with Come in vano il mare irato, a bravura aria from Cantone in Utica. Right away the voice grabs you with its eveness and accuracy in passage work. Lemme tell you, the aria is a bitch. Passage work comes at you fast and furious; mercilessly exposing anything that could be wrong with any singer. Vivica more than singing it, conquers it by means of great articulation and expression alone. You can hear how hard she worked at the aria, you hear her gasping for air in some sections, a reminder that singing this aria is no easy feat. At the end, like an athlete winning a gold medal in the Olympics, Vivica throws her arms up in the air and you can almost hear her say I did it!

Now, don’t believe that the recording is all about fast and furious. There are also moments of introspection, like in Il labbro ti lusinga (Opera unknown), in which Vivica employs her beautiful voice to apparently turn down a lover who, despite the attempts to gain the character’s love, (s)he realizes it is impossible, and sings My eyes flatter you, my eyes promise love, but this ungrateful heart burns with another passion. Vivica sings it beautifully, expressing the characters pity towards the rejected one perfectly. What a way to get dumped. I already have my number and await in line…

Through the recording, several things are apparent to me, and while I have mentioned them here, I do want to summarize them. Vivica’s voice is incredibly even from top to bottom. I find it refreshing that we have mezzos like her singing with such evenness of tone. It is way too easy for mezzos to believe that they do not need to have both good high notes and low ones. Thankfully, artists like Vivica Genoux and Joice DiDonato sing with technical expertise to spare. Let’s hope the mezzos in waiting will listen to them and imitate the many wonderful qualities they have. Another thing that I absolutely love in this artist is how good her sung Italian is. I have gotten tired of listening to singers who can not sing in a foreign language without making unacceptable mistakes in their diction and their declamation. Just because a singer is American (or French, or Romanian, or German), it does not mean their recordings or performances have to be marred by accented delivery; Vivica is a testament to that. Her Italian singing through the disc is fantastic. She avoids the pitfalls of adding wrong accents on words by  singing note values rather than text (a mistake all too common in these, the latter days of the come scritto era). How refreshing to have a singer (not the only one mind you) who can use the text to inform the music making, rather than letting the note values in the page be a straitjacket that limits the expression. Truly I tell you, music making of the first order.

The disc moves along with expressions of rage, love and desperation, all carefully selected to display Vivica’s expressive voice and way with the text. I know that there are other mezzos who have recorded a Vivaldi album and more recently a castrato-inspired album as well. Not to make comparisons between artists, as I find both marvelous in their work; I find Vivica’s way with coloratura far more expressive and a lot less mechanical. To my ears, her phrasing a lot more natural, musical and ultimately pleasing . Other artists dazzle us with the speed of their coloratura in this repertoire, Vivica not only sings it just as fast and just as accurate, she adds the expression and thus triumphs in areas where other artists don’t. With other artists we are marveled at what they can do with the music, how fast can it be sung, how difficult the music is and accurate their articulation is. In this recording we marvel with Vivica at how expressive this music can be in the hands of a musician ready to make these arias something deeper than just pyrotechnics.  The recording triumphs because in spite of being called Pyrotechnics, it delivers both the pyrotechnics and the emotion in equal portions.

Lastly, I want to comment in something that is completely unrelated to the singing in this release: the picture on the cover. It is so refreshing to see an artist put a recording out with her picture, HER FACE, no photoshopping until you are completely unrecognizable and unrealistic. Whoever made that decision, thank you for taking a stand. Vivica is a beautiful woman and seeing her for the gorgeous woman that she is in the cover is a great thing for people all over the world who are succered into believing in unrealistic beauty standards.


December 13, 2009 - Posted by | Recording Review | , ,


  1. Thank you for this review of Vivica’s new CD, Lindoro. I have always found her an interesting performer. I shall purchase her album through iTunes right away.

    Comment by Nourrit's Number | December 13, 2009 | Reply

  2. I have been wondering if I should get this cd. I think I will after reading this.

    Comment by Bart | December 14, 2009 | Reply

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