Thursday, May 23, 2013

"A Tribute to Faustina Bordoni" - Vivica Genaux

Faustina Bordoni is one of the most famous opera singers in history. She was born in Venice and was educated as a singer by Michelangelo Gasparini. She also had close ties with the Marcello brothers Alessandro and Benedetto. As an opera singer she made her debut in Venice in 1716 and sang here until 1725. She also performed in other cities, such as Milan, Florence, Bologna and Naples and made her German debut in Munich in 1723. In the second half of the 1720s she worked in London, where she participated in performances of operas by Handel. Here she was involved in a fiery rivalry with one of Handel's prime donne Francesca Cuzzoni. In 1730 she married the German-born Johann Adolf Hasse, who was one of the most famous composers in Italy and soon also made a name for himself in Germany, and especially at the court in Dresden. Since their marriage Bordoni sang many roles in Hasse's operas. They kept travelling, though, and were sought-after across Europe. Hasse soon was the most fashionable opera composer of Europe.

Bordoni was described as a dramatic singer, whose voice was powerful and flexible. According to the Spanish opera historian Esteban de Arteaga she had "a matchless facility and rapidity in her execution … exquisite shake [and] new and brilliant passages of embellishment". The arias which have been selected for this "Tribute to Faustina Bordoni" are suited to prove those qualities. It is a bit of a shame that the pieces in the programme have not been ordered chronologically. On the other hand, there is a good mix of arias of a different character, although the more virtuosic pieces dominate. That is just as well, because those pieces suit Vivica Genaux best. She certainly has a very agile voice, and has no problems with the coloraturas.

The expressive aspects of these arias are far less well conveyed. Take for instance the last piece on the programme, an independent aria which Hasse composed as a tribute to his wife after she had deceased, Ah! Che mancar mi sento: "Ah! I feel my strength fails me as I leave you, beloved." The emotion which is expressed in the text doesn't really come off. The performances by Vivica Genaux are not very differentiated, and that is partly due to one of the most disappointing features of this recording: her incessant vibrato. She applies it on nearly every single note. I find this unbearable, and it makes this disc rather unlistenable, as good as the music is and as impressive Ms Genaux's performances may be from a technical point of view. It is also completely at odds with what we know about the way vibrato was used in the baroque era.

It is all the more disappointing because Hasse's operas are still largely unknown and he has the unjust reputation because of his flow production of operas. However, Hasse was an excellent writer for the voice and knew perfectly how to explore the specific qualities of a singer. His orchestral scores are also often brilliant such as in the A part of the aria 'Va tra le selve Ircane' from Artaserse. Another example is the obbligato part for the oboe in 'Piange quel fronte' from Numa Pompilio.

As sympethetic this project is, the result is largely disappointing because of the neglicence of the vocal aesthetics of Faustina Bordoni's time.

"A Tribute to Faustina Bordoni"
Vivica Genaux, mezzo-soprano; Cappella Gabetta/Andrés Gabetta
Recorded 3 - 5 September 2011, Bremen, Studio Radio Bremen
deutsche harmonia mundi 88691944592 (67'08")