Saturday, February 6, 2016

Foreign Correspondent: Baroque in Paris

Vivica Genaux Recital
Salle Gaveau, Paris
February 2, 2016

The stunning Vivica Genaux.
Photo credit: Christian Steiner
Let me introduce myself. Well, maybe later, music first. Not surprisingly, Paris has an incredibly intense opera scene, which goes well beyond the world famous Opéra. Less internationally-known theaters or independent opera companies often offer high-quality productions of less popular operas in more intimate settings (which makes these productions a must for opera lovers). Upcoming not-to-be-missed shows include Mitridate Re di Ponto at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées (under superstar director Emmanuelle Haïm, which delivered one of this season’s personal favorites, Francesco Cavalli’s Xerse at the Opéra de Lille), and DivinOpera’s production of Offenbach’s La Périchole.

Genaux captivates the Salle Gaveau.
Photo credit: L'Altro
The equally intense concert scene this week offered a superb performance of Vivica Genaux at the Salle Gaveau. The program included Baroque arias expressly written for Farinelli, the most famous castrato of all time. We all know how demanding these arias are, and that very few singers today can actually match the score challenges. Well, no doubt Genaux is one of these singers.

Genaux’s voice is not incredibly big, and her register is fairly limited. But she is a true master of the art of coloratura and has always done a great job in choosing a repertoire that perfectly fits her voice. The concert program included both arie di bravura and lamenti. Genaux literally nailed all of them, especially in the second half of the show, when her voice warmed up and the audience was totally at her feet. Genaux’s coloratura is always extremely fast and precise, and she is able to deliver the most difficult arias (apparently) without any effort. Genaux strikes a stunningly elegant figure and has a huge stage presence, which made the public almost forget that we were listening to a concert (as opposite to a full-staged performance).

I was particularly impressed by Porpora’s Come nave in ria tempesta, while my charming companion was more deeply moved by slower arias such as Porpora’s Alto Giove. It is always a pleasure to see friends who are not used to going to the opera so deeply touched and enthusiastic about a performance. This should be the goal of all performances, and Genaux perfectly reached the goal on Tuesday night!

The spirit of Farinelli was invoked throughout the evening.
Photo credit: L'Altro
At the end of the concert’s program, Genaux delivered two additional virtuoso arias. The first one was a recently re-discovered aria that Giacomelli composed for Farinelli. I was so excited when I heard how the aria had been neglected for centuries that I forgot to note down its name (please forgive me).

The second aria was one of Genaux’s signature tracks, Vivaldi’s Agitata da due venti. Once again, Genaux’s fireworks and pyrotechnics were impeccable (especially in the second aria, which Genaux masters like very few other singers in the world). A true musical orgasm. As soon as the orchestra stopped playing, the audience tore down the house, with an enthusiasm that I have rarely heard in a solo-concert (this was even more surprising considering the relatively-advanced average age of the audience).

Right after the show, an ever-smiling Genaux joined the super enthusiastic audience in the foyer, to take pictures with the fans and sign copies of her bestselling albums. (I have to admit that I re-bought her stunning Arias for Farinelli just to have it signed.) I like her even more for her non-diva and smiley attitude. Quite surprisingly, a good number of superb mezzos specialized in the baroque repertoire (including personal favorites Joyce DiDonato and Ann Hallenberg) have the same positive and friendly approach to their public.

Genaux was superbly accompanied by Les Musiciens du Louvre, an ensemble that commands the baroque repertoire like few other orchestras in Europe (and, likely, the world). I do not know how many times Genaux and the orchestra actually rehearsed, but they definitely gave the impression of having worked together for years, being in perfect synchronization piece after piece. Les Musiciens du Louvre also gave moving performances of Vivaldi’s Concerto for 2 Violins and Cello in G minor, RV 578A and Hasses’ Fuga e Grave in G minor.

I almost forgot to introduce myself. I am a close friends with Lui and Lei, with whom I share a deep passion for bel canto. Musically trained in La Scala’s unforgiving Loggione, I spent the last two years around the Met and New York’s hipster independent opera companies. Currently based in Paris, I am always looking for great performances all across Europe. Ad maiora!

– L’Altro

Vivica on tour with Les Musiciens du Louvre.
Photo credit: Laurent Barbotin

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