The history of opera is inseparably linked with the biographies of singers; audiences have always been fascinated by both musical prowess and behind the scenes goings-on. The battle for prestige and fame was heated and passionate in the Baroque era, with legendary rivalries. Fiercely competitive, Cuzzoni and Bordoni were among the most acclaimed divas of the age, resorting to fisticuffs on stage. Present-day prima donnas Genaux, Prina, Nesi and Basso now follow in the footsteps of their fervid predecessors, presenting on disc a tongue-in-cheek survey of standout arias for mezzo soprano and contralto. Three star mezzos and a magnificent top contralto are accompanied by the superb Greek orchestra Armonia Atenea under conductor George Petrou, winner of Germany s prestigious ECHO Klassik Prize. A stunning recital, bringing to life the rich heritage of Baroque opera the acme of musical enjoyment with the entertaining element of cultic stardom.
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.
Vivica Genaux’s superb recording of arias by Handel and Hasse composed for Faustina Bordoni shows why that 18th-century singer, who had a notorious catfight with her rival Francesca Cuzzoni in front of the Princess of Wales, was so envied. Handel wrote some glorious arias for her, most notably Lusinghe piu care from Alessandro, beautifully sung by Genaux on the opening track. Johann Adolph Hasse didn’t quite have the magic touch of Handel musically, but he married Bordoni and then proceeded to compose at least 15 operatic roles for her – truly justifying their contemporary reputation as the power couple of 18th-century opera.
Virgin Classics present the world-premiere recording of L’Oracolo in Messenia, an opera prepared by Vivaldi for Vienna and now reconstructed by Fabio Biondi. Biondi leads this triumphant performance, which opened the 2011 Resonanzen festival in the Austrian capital with a high-powered cast including Ann Hallenberg, Vivica Genaux and rising soprano Julia Lezhneva.
Composed for the Carnival season in Verona in 1735, Bajazet is a ‘pasticcio’ opera based on the familiar story of the eponymous Turkish sultan’s imprisonment at the hands of the Tartar tyrant Tamerlane. As such, it openly uses arias by other composers, including Hasse, Broschi and Giacomelli, as well as re-cycled pieces from Vivaldi’s own operas (L’Olimpiade, Giustino, Farnace, Semiramide and Montezuma among them). But this is no mere patchwork of recycled numbers. All the ‘borrowed’ arias are expertly placed within the dramatic fabric of the work and are held together with richly composed recitatives. What we end up with is the best of the best in terms of Neapolitan-style opera – tuneful, virtuosic and passionate. Virtually every number in this recording is a highlight. What really lifts the recording is the quality of the performances. There are no holes or flaws among the experienced cast. David Daniels makes a fine Tamerlane – slippery and cruel – while Marijana Mijanovic’s Asteria packs a powerful dramatic punch. Top marks too for Vivica Genaux in the technically demanding role of Irene. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo makes a commanding Bajazet, although his tough dignity comes at the loss of some sensitivity.