06 February 2012

Live from New York, It’s Vivica Genaux!

“Before the trail goes cold,” as Dan Rather likes to say, I ought to record my responses to Vivica Genaux’s appearance at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall on 2 February, in concert with her illustrious collaborators — “allies” seems a better word, really, and “soul mates” even better — Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante, Baroque specialists who have joined Vivica on many a triumphant occasion over the years, and who performed with her on the acclaimed Vivaldi album, Pyrotechnics.

Vivica sings ceaselessly in Europe and hasn’t been taking many New York engagements lately, and this was in fact her only scheduled appearance this season. The concert then represented a status check: how she’s singing these days (not to mention how she’s looking, which is never an insignificant question with this glamorous artist) and what she’s capable of. Before a sold-out house, Vivica made clear that she’s still a terrifically exciting performer, and New Yorkers are right to regret that she doesn’t drop by more often.

At Zankel Hall, 2 February 2012

In at least one of the numbers, she even provided a little object lesson for some singers of whom New York has been hearing quite a lot. For example, her account of “Agitata di due venti,” from Griselda, really put Danielle de Niese to shame. De Niese sang the same number, with different lyrics of course, as her solo finale in the Met’s recent Enchanted Island, and she did so quite charmingly, but as an exercise in technique, the aria honestly wasn’t the best fit for her.

Vivica, for her part, breezes through “Agitata” as if it were child’s play, at dizzying speed but with no loss of accuracy or expression. The voice remains fascinating in itself, with a burnished lower register that, when she started out, frequently earned favorable comparison to that of no less than Marilyn Horne. Then Vivica tosses out the high notes, gleaming and free, across a dazzling range. It’s a pleasure to hear her.

Europa Galante brought welcome variety to the program, with instrumental interludes by composers other than Vivaldi. The concert opened with Vivaldi’s Sinfonia in C Major (RV 116), but later detoured to embrace Pietro Nardini’s Violin Concerto in A Major (Op. 1, No. 1, with Maestro Biondi taking the difficult violin part) and also Pietro Locatelli’s Concerto Grosso in E-Flat Major, “Ariadne’s Lament” (Op. 7, No. 6).

The virtue of grace and the appearance of ease — which we Baroque fans seek but don’t find often enough — were much on display, until the musicians’ ensemble seemed like a union of spirits, almost as if all of Europa Galante were a single instrument. The players remain standing in performance, which gives the audience an even greater sense of the physical harmony they achieve.

Several of the selections on this evening’s program are included in this album, which you can purchase at Amazon by clicking here.
(Provided of course you don’t own it already.)

The proportions of Zankel Hall and the crowd of affectionate listeners (including not only friends like me but also members of Vivica’s family, who’d flown in from Alaska) helped to create an even greater intimacy during the concert. Zankel’s acoustics seemed less dry and buzzy to my ears than the last time I went, a few years ago: maybe somebody’s worked on them.

That acoustic may have inspired Vivica to try some pretty daring soft singing, taking it down until a listener wanted to lean forward. In New York, where critics are so often obsessed with the size of a voice (a pretty important consideration, since some of the halls here, especially the Met, are so vast), this was, as I say, a daring calculation, but Vivica pulled it off with confidence: she knows perfectly well that she can make herself heard in a bigger room, but this is what this music told her to do at this moment in this room. And that’s how Vivaldi would want it, I think.

The “Red Priest” wasn’t immune to feminine charms, and in fact many of his works were written for female musicians at the conservatory of the Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage in Venice, where listeners were charmed by the pretty girls in performance: I remember reading somewhere an eyewitness account of an audience member who was utterly smitten by a girl musician with a flower behind her ear. Beauty was part of Vivaldi’s original staging concept, if you will. So as I looked at Vivica, always so gorgeous, in two absolutely smashing gowns, I thought, “Yeah, the old boy would have approved of this, too.”

She was surrounded by well-wishers after the performance, and I didn’t get a chance to congratulate her, or even to get a bisou. All the more reason to hope she’ll return to New York very soon.

Pretty even in a parka: At home in Alaska.


Anonymous said...

I love Viveca, but she is at least 15 years older than Ms De Niese, dont forget that.

William V. Madison said...

I'm old-fashioned: I never ask a lady her age.

But I'm not sure how Danielle de Niese's relative youth would affect her performance of this or any other florid music. Are you suggesting that de Niese will gain more technical security as she ages? With a light, lyric voice such as hers, and singing lead roles already at the Met, as she does, we have to believe that her voice is mature now.

Anonymous said...

Then you dont know much about the voice. Ms de Niese is a fledging in this field, although singing lead roles which is a tribute to her, but her voice is still growing.