Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Baroque Variations

November 01, 2011

Vivica Genaux
This past summer I posted the first in a recurring series of posts comparing various clips of vocalists performing the same aria and allowing you, the reader, to decide who sang it best. The aria in question was “Agitata da due venti” from Vivaldi’s Griselda and among the performers I featured was the highly-regarded mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux. I usually don’t take a stand in these run-offs, but after Sunday, I have developed a distinct liking for Genaux’ take on the piece. Of course hearing her sing it live on Sunday probably swung me unfairly in her direction. But I don’t see how anyone couldn’t have been considering how great she was in a series of concerts across the bay area with Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. I spent much of last weekend hearing Baroque arias from a number of artists, and with the possible exception of Philippe Jaroussky, Genaux gave the most satisfying and striking vocal performance I heard all weekend in this concert with her clear, fluid coloratura fireworks and beautiful phrasing.

And to make things that much better, the rather routine programming concept, “Arias for Farinelli”, was improved upon by a selection of arias from less familiar composers and operas. including Nicola Porpora and Riccardo Broschi. Genaux' beautiful voice was well matched with her personable style. She joked with the audience at times and clearly had a great time with McGegan and the orchestra members. She went from a lovely bright pink rose-petal gown in the first half to a burgundy pantsuit with sequined blouse in the second. But it was her ability to evoke a dreamy state of suspended animation with pieces like Porpora's "Dolci, freschi, aurette grati" that left the strongest impression.

Sounding good was easier to do in part thanks to the accompaniment of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. It was Genaux' first collaboration with the orchestra, but McGegan and his ensemble have a history of working with some of the premiere vocal artists around and it was a match made in heaven. The orchestra sounded superb with just enough zest and edge in their period-informed approach that made for very enthusiastic receptions of pieces like Fasch's Concerto for Two Flutes, Two Oboes and Two Bassoons in D minor. Finding forgotten treasures is the stock and trade of many period music ensembles. Making the unfamiliar sound as musically exciting as familiar compositions from Handel or Vivaldi is another skill entirely and the Philharmonia Baroque players ave mastered that far more sublime task. Here's the kicker: both Genaux and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra will be making appearances in Los Angeles this winter (though not together). McGegan and his players will be guests of the Los Angeles Philharmonic this December playing Handel's Messiah and Genaux will arrive in January alongside another great period ensemble, Fabio Biondi's Europa Galante. "Agitata da due venti" is on that program as well, so see for yourself how impressive Genaux' vocal chops really are.


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