Vivica Genaux, Mezzo-Soprano
Fabio Biondi, Violin and Director
Vivaldi – Sinfonia in C Major, RV 116
Vivaldi – “Quell’usignolo” from Farnace, RV 711
Vivaldi – “Vorrei dirti il mio dolore” from Rosmira, RV 731
Nardini – Concerto for Violin in A Major, Op. 1, No. 1
Vivaldi – “Splender fra’l cieco orror” from Tito Manlio, RV 738
Vivaldi – “Alma oppressa” from La fida ninfa, RV 714
Vivaldi – Concerto in A Minor for Two Violins, Strings, and Continuo from L’estro armonico, Op. 3, No. 8
Vivaldi – “E prigioniero e re” from Semiramide, RV 733
Vivaldi – “Come in vano il mare irato” from Catone in Utica, RV 705
P.A. Locatelli – Concerto grosso in E-flat Major, Op. 7, No. 6, “Il pianto d’Arianna”
Vivaldi – “Agitata da due venti” from Adelaide, RV 718
Let’s start with the hall. I’ve been living in New York for about seven years, and it was my first time in Zankel Hall. I don’t know why. It’s a beautiful hall except for one huge problem: the subway! The noise was so obvious. Also, I feel that for this kind of music this hall is not the best choice. Baroque music in general is not very loud and therefore needs a hall that has really live acoustics, even church-like acoustics, and Zankel Hall does not have anything like that.
The concert started with the Sinfonia in C Major RV 116 (1729) by Vivaldi. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard such a great ensemble. You could feel Europa Galante’s team spirit. Their dynamics were exceptional, and their “togetherness” was just breathtaking—not simply a matter of playing together on the same beat, but of a real unanimity in tone, phrasing, and rhythm.
The second piece was also by Vivaldi: “Quell’usignolo,” from Farnace, RV 711 (1727; rev 1738). When Vivica showed up on stage you could hear people’s rapture. She wore a black dress that complimented her beautiful complexion with a red flower on the left shoulder. She looked absolutely stunning. I’ve never heard Vivica before, and I must say that she has one of the most gorgeous voices. It’s not big, but for Baroque one doesn’t need a big voice. Right away, Vivica strikes you with her vocal technique. All the tempi were so fast that one would wonder, how in the world can anyone sing so fast? And not every ensemble can play that fast either. But both Vivica and Europa Galante showed the highest class of musicianship and technique.
In Pietro Nardini’s Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 1, No.1 (ca.1765) Fabio Biondi, the leader of the group, was the soloist. I might say that Biondi is a great leader, but as a soloist he did not impress me that much. Looking at his biography, I saw that he has played a lot in orchestras, and that what I heard—the sound of an orchestra violinist, not a soloist.
Vivica changed her dress during the intermission for the second half of the concert to a glossy red gown that looked absolutely splendid with her black hair. I mention this specifically not only because it interests me, but because it’s important how a singer—or musician—presents her or himself to the audience. One doesn’t want to look good on stage just for oneself, but for the sake of the music. If a singer looks as beautiful as Vivica does, it can only help win over the audience, and, above all, win over newcomers to one’s repertoire. I regret to have to say that the players of Europa Galante were anything but galante in their appearance. They were very poorly dressed. Some of them looked as if they had just come from the train station. I know at the end of the day it’s how you play, but, as I said, today the visual aspect is very important, especially if we want to attract a new generation of listeners.
Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor for Two Violins, Strings, and Continuo, from L’estro armonico, Op. 3, No 8 (1711) was almost overwhelming, especially the Larghetto e spirituoso. This was in fact a spiritual experience. The second violin, Andrea Rognoni, was what we would call a real soloist. His violin sings.
“È prigioniero e re,” from Semiramide, RV 733 (1732) was for me the best piece on the program. It was so naked, so vulnerable, and yet scary. It ended on such a pianissimo that audience was sitting there for a few seconds after the end with bated breath. It reminded me Prokofiev’s “The Gray-Eyed King,” a setting of a poem by Anna Akhmatova. A person hurts so much but is still so strong.*
Vivaldi, “Agitata da due venti,” from L’Adelaide (RV 695 1735) / Griselda (RV 718, 1735) was the most famous piece on the program. It’s a tough act to follow after Cecilia Bartoli, who is amazing in this genre and who played a major role in bringing all this music back to life for audiences, but I must admit that Vivica was just right there and sang it with great technique. Of course people absolutely loved it and screamed bravo…and of course the musicians had to do an encore. Actually they did two. The first was “Sposa son disprezzata,” and the second one was a piece by Farinelli’s brother, Riccardo Broschi.
*Here is the translation of the text set by Vivaldi:
Both as a prisoner and a king
my heart, ever strong,
beats within me
Not all the treachery
of blind fate
will ever subdue it.
Here is Akhmatova’s poem:
The Grey-Eyed King
Hail! Hail to thee, o, immovable pain!
The young grey-eyed king had been yesterday slain.
This autumnal evening was stuffy and red.
My husband, returning, had quietly said,
“He’d left for his hunting; they carried him home;
They’d found him under the old oak’s dome.
I pity the queen. He, so young, past away!…
During one night her black hair turned to grey.”
He found his pipe on a warm fire-place,
And quietly left for his usual race.
Now my daughter will wake up and rise —
Mother will look in her dear grey eyes…
And poplars by windows rustle as sing,
“Never again will you see your young king…”