Vivica Genaux: Arias for Farinelli
Excerpts from operas by Nicola Antonia Porpora (Orfeo, Polifemo, and Artasere), Johann Adolf Hasse (Artasere), Riccardo Broschi (Idaspe), and Geminiano Giacomelli (Adriano in Siria and Merope). Plus, Baldassare Galuppi, Concerto a 4 in C minor.
Vivica Genaux, mezzo-soprano. Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, RenÈ Jacobs, Director.
HARMONIA MUNDI  HMC 901778 (F) (DDD) TT: 77:35
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Carlo Broschi (1705-1782), better known as Farinelli, was the leading castrato of his day. Farinelli's extraordinary vocal gifts -and the daring with which he used them -drove audiences into a frenzy. German composer Johann Joachim Quantz, who heard Farinelli perform in Naples in 1726, provided this descriptive account of the great castrato's art:

(Farinelli) had a penetrating, well-rounded, luscious, clear and even soprano whose range at that time was from the low A to the D above high C. In later years it was extended several tones below without the loss of the high notes. The result was that in many operas there would usually be an adagio for him in the contralto range, and another in the soprano. His intonation was pure, his trill beautiful, his lung capacity extraordinary and his throat very flexible, so that he could sing the most distant intervals in fast tempi and with the greatest ease and accuracy…In arbitrary embellishment of an adagio he was very inventive. The fire of youth, his great talent, universal applause and an accomplished throat led him from time to time to excessive display.

Selections included on this Harmonia Mundi disc, "Arias for Farinelli," feature music intended to showcase Farinelli's singular talents. Indeed, many of the items on this CD were Farinelli signature pieces. For example, "Per questo dolce amplesso," from Hasse's Artasere, and "Quell’usignolo" from Giacomelli's Merope were two of four arias that Farinelli sang at the request and for the comfort of King Philip V of Spain - every night for a period of ten years!  The daunting task of singing Farinelli's virtuoso music is given to the young American mezzo-soprano, Vivica Genaux. Ms. Genaux has already earned an international reputation for her accomplished performances in Baroque and Bel Canto music. This disc reinforces Ms. Genaux's status as one of today's leading performers in such repertoire.

Throughout this recital Genaux sings Farinelli's virtuoso music with admirable confidence and ease. The rapid-fire scales, intervals, and trills are negotiated with extraordinary accuracy. The legato in cantilena passages is exemplary, enhanced by the singer's attractive tone and varied palette of dynamics and vocal colors. And as with any outstanding singer, Ms. Genaux uses her technical mastery not for mere display, but as the means for singing of expressiveness and dramatic intensity; for example, the aria "Qual guerriero in campo armato" from Idaspe, written by Farinelli's brother, Riccardo Broschi. Vivica Genaux tosses off the heroic and brilliant opening portion with breathtaking abandon. But immediately after these fireworks, the mezzo-soprano scales her voice down almost to a whisper for the reflective "B" section ("Il timor del dubbio evento"). This makes the inevitable da capo repeat of the opening doubly effective, as indeed it should be.

This kind of first-rate vocalism and musicianship may be found throughout Arias for Farinelli. Genaux is ably partnered by RenÈ Jacobs and the period-instrument Akademie für Alte Musik, who provide incisive and nuanced accompaniments, as well as a fine performance of Baldassare Galuppi's instrumental Concerto a 4 in C minor. The recorded sound is superb, with a warm, natural acoustic and a realistic balance between the performers.

The booklet includes fascinating essays by Reinhard Strom about Farinelli and by Mr. Jacobs about modern performances of the castrato's music. Original Italian operatic texts are translated into French, English, and German.

In short, Arias for Farinelli is a first-class production on all levels. It is certainly one of the finest vocal releases of 2002 and, by year's end, could very well move to the top of my list.

K.M.  (September 2002)