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  Harmonia Mundi -
  HMC 801778
  Arias For Farinelli - René Jacobs
  Nicola Antonio Porpora [1686-1768]: Orfeo "Dall'amor più sventurato"; Polifemo "Oh volesser gli Dei... Dolci freschi aurette"; Artaserse "Or la nube procellosa" (ajout dans l'oeuvre de Johann Adolf Hasse)
Riccardo Broschi [1698-1756]: Idaspe "Qual guerriero in campo armato"
Geminiano Giacomeli [1692-1740]: Adriano in Siria "Mancare Dio mi sento"
Baldassare Galuppi [1706-1785]: Concerto a 4 in C minor
Johann Adolf Hasse [1699-1783]: Artaserse "Per questo dolce amplesso"
Geminiano Giacomeli [1692-1740]: Merope "Quell'usignolo"

Vivica Genaux
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
René Jacobs
Track listing:
  Classical - Vocal
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Reviews: 2

Review by LC August 17, 2004 (3 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Review: Stereo portion of stereo/multichannel SACD

Audio System: Sony ES, Placette, Rogue, Meadowlark, Cardas (See User Details)


If the only coloratura singing you know is the Queen of the Night’s arias, you need to hear “Qual guerriero in campo armato” (“Like an armed warrior on the battlefield”) from the early 18th century opera "Idaspe." Eight minutes of nearly continuous vocal leaps, twists, flutters, twirls and dives, this showpiece aria was written by Riccardo Broschi for his famous castrato brother Carlo Broschi, known to the world simply as Farinelli. It is scarcely believable that a human being can sing this at all, let alone master it as Farinelli did, and as the American mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux does here. Although today male falsetto singers often sing the roles written for castrati, Jacobs argues in his excellent essay on the castrato legacy that a mezzo-soprano is the best choice for Farinelli’s roles, at least. Farinelli’s astounding range, for which these arias were specifically written, exceeds the potential of falsetto singing. Only a mezzo-soprano (and one of supreme talent, at that), has “the really sonorous low register that makes it possible to achieve clear and natural pronunciation… combined with high notes that must be gently placed, unforced, and capable of modulation.” Genaux’s performance spectacularly vindicates Jacobs’ judgement.

Most of the operas represented here have never been recorded. They are by forgotten composers inspired to write for a singular voice. The result of this inspiration was, as Jacobs describes, the development of the original bel canto style of singing. Although not all sheer acrobatics, this singing, like 19th century bel canto, can be exhausting to listen to for extended periods, and Jacobs wisely breaks up the program with a Galuppi concerto in C minor. This is very ably performed by the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, who elsewhere support Genaux with excellent tact and balance. The recital concludes with an amazing feat of stamina and control, the fourteen minute aria “Quell’ usignolo,” which repeatedly demands that the singer navigate unaccompanied through passages of daunting intricacy. Genaux remains in perfect form throughout, somehow making even the most ornate arias (and one recitative) seem like natural expressions of human emotion.


While not exactly superficial, this is music to which the performer arguably contributes more than the composer, so it is important to get the soloist right. And for the most part, the sonics are up to Harmonia Mundi’s usual high standards, if not quite to the very highest standards. String and voice textures are convincing, and imaging is consistent and fairly realistic. Genaux’s voice is unobscured by instrument crescendos, allowing the listener to feel her exuberance or sorrow. As might be expected, the orchestra is best captured in the concerto. Overall, the recording lacks the last little bit of articulation and presence that is possible with a solo female vocalist and Baroque orchestra (and is achieved, for instance, on the Sony Classical Angelika Kirchschlager Bach: Arias SACD). Sometimes the sound seems just a bit cloudy, so that voice or instruments seem to “break through” rather than rise up in a completely natural fashion. These complaints are minor, however. The recording is not even close to being botched.


A remarkable performance of some remarkably demanding music, recorded well enough that even audio fanatics absolutely should not pass it up.

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Review by brenda March 28, 2005 (1 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Sorry to disagree with LC, more on matters of personal taste than anything else. For me this disc was a disappointment. Farinelli was not only the god of the big, florid (and often meaningless) aria but he was highly regarded for the purity of his singing, as per Quantz’s description of “penetrating‚ full‚ rich‚ bright and well modulated soprano voice…his intonation was pure‚ his trill beautiful‚ his breath control extraordinary… passagework and all types of melismas were of no difficulty at all for him”.

Note the term soprano in the above description. Ms Genaux is not a soprano but a mezzo, with all the wobble of an ageing contralto. Rene Jacobs believes that a mezzo voice is closer to what Farinelli would have sounded like, and he is the musicologist, not me, but yet again my ears and tastes disagree with Mr Jacobs’ unquestionable scholarship. I could of course be biased, as a soprano, but let me quickly note that some of my best friends are contraltos and mezzos.

Ms. Genaux is sometimes strident, sometimes fiery, but rarely alluring as Farinelli is reported to have been. Unlike the original Gramophone reviewer, some years back, who felt that her voice was otherworldly, I found it all too worldly, - not in the sense of cynical or tired, just, well, mundane. I also found a lack of contrast not only in the selections but also in Ms G’s projection of them. The relative lack of the emotional intensity which is required to make these set arias live is a disappointment.

Jacobs and his reliable band support Genaux well but there’s little outstanding in either instrumental writing or playing.

Also disappointing is the sound. It’s not that it’s bad, just that it feels bland and manipulated, betraying its PCM origins and the manipulation of surround.

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