Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Who Sang It Better?
Griselda Edition

July 12, 2011


The Santa Fe Opera will open a new production of Vivaldi’s Griselda this weekend. An operatic rarity, the work is mostly known today by a handful of arias popular on the concert stage. Perhaps the best known of these is “Agitata da due venti” a coloratura showpiece popular with those vocalists who’ve got the chops to manage its quick pace, trills, and elaborate detail. In perhaps the first of a recurring series, above and below are two prime examples of the work in performance – Cecilia Bartoli (above) and Vivica Genaux below. The question at hand: Who sang it better?

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They both sing the aria very well. We are lucky to live in a golden age of coloratura mezzos.

Unfortunately, I can't stand looking at Bartoli sing. She makes so many odd faces that I am distracted from her singing.

Winner Genaux!
In this repertoire Bartoli is the supreme master and this comparison proves it. Genaux is certainly very good but Bartoli is simply phenomenal.
Visually, Genaux's constant shaking of lower lip and jaw is all driven by technical demands and is actually very unattractive, while Bartoli's "faces" are connected much more to the expressiveness of her phrasing than to technique and she makes almost no facial concessions to technical "difficulties" because apparently they do not exist for her. By the way, her coloratura embellishments are more virtuosic and varied than Genaux's but she still manages to make every passage, no matter how demanding, much more musically interesting and exciting. Her echo effects are stunning and her pianissimi are gorgeous. The play of contrasts between marcato and legato in her singing is breathtakingly beautiful.
The winner, by a musical mile, is Bartoli!
how can you exclude Simone Kernes from this contest? With Spinosi, who reigns her in quite a bit, she is the far better performer.

Thanks to schmup53 for reminding us of another interesting singer. The video of Simone Kermes once again demonstrates the unquestionable supremacy of Cecilia Bartoli in this repertoire. Kermes (whose last name was surprisingly misspelled by her devoted fan above here) surely has lots of spunk and character in her performance, but technically it is unfortunately a mess. Perhaps she is a far wilder performer but definitely not "far better". Some notes are out of tune, others have no sound left in them at the end of phrases, and she simply omits a few of the notes when she runs out of breath in several places. It is hard to say who is better - Genaux or Kermes - because the former is more accurate with the text while the latter impresses with more individuality, so it is probably a matter of taste. However, the superior quality of Bartoli's singing, compared to either one of the other two, is absolutely clear, both technically and musically: every note is virtually perfect in her performance and there is plenty of beautiful phrasing and entertaining characterization in her interpretation - a peerless combination.
Simone Kermes masters every note and delivers drama and emotion and intensity. She is the persona (the character of the opera) she performs. Technically she does it all, making it look like it costs her no effort. Simone Kermes is just brilliantly outstanding, a one-off. Seeing her live in concert makes any comparison superfluous. She has it all, subtleties and extravaganza.

watch this:


check out for recital roma, 2009 and ENJOY!
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