Vivica Genaux

Arias for Farinelli

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Recording an album of arias written expressly for Farinelli, one of the most legendary castratos of the eighteenth century, is brave; his name invokes a world of superhuman vocal feats, remarkable pathos, and a uniquely strong and brilliant tone that, for obvious anatomical reasons, will not be replicated by modern singers. But that clearly does not scare Vivica Genaux who, along with René Jacobs and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, dives into Farinelli's repertory as if it were her very own. She reveals a voice capable of dizzying speed and agility, and a refreshing ability to find in the highly ornamented, expression-through-excess style that typified opera seria of the time a sincerity and musical integrity that makes a case for its wider exploration. Jacobs and the Akademie are equally impressive, playing with a rhythmic vitality and crisp ensemble that elevates their role to an equal plane with that of the voice. Inclusion of Baldassare Galuppi's Concerto à quattro in D minor -- a rare orchestral selection on a vocal recital album -- is especially interesting; although it lacks the visceral appeal of the sung selections, it showcases the ensemble to great effect. Genaux is terrific in all respects, but she really shines when the fireworks start. There are jaw-dropping passages in these arias that are impossibly intricate, often combining furious coloratura and ornament upon ornament with wide leaps and extremes of range, both high and low. Hearing her negotiate these difficulties with such clarity and confidence is awe-inspiring and fun. Especially noteworthy are "Qual guerriero in campo armato" from Idaspe, by Riccardo Broschi (Farinelli's brother) and Geminiano Giacomelli's "Quell'usignolo," from the opera Merope. Both are showpieces that very few people could sing at all, let alone so winningly.

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