Vivica Genaux, Mezzo-Soprano, sings Vivaldi Pyrotechnics, with Europa Galante led by Fabio Biondi

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Vivica Genaux. Photo Christian Steiner.

Vivica Genaux. Photo Christian Steiner.

Vivaldi Pyrotechnics
Vivica Genaux, Mezzo-Soprano
Europa Galante
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…”

About the author

Roza Tulyaganova

Soprano Roza Tulyaganova, DMA, is a native of Uzbekistan. Since moving to the United States in 2000, she has traveled extensively, performing major and supporting opera roles in cities across the country. Miss Tulyaganova pursued and completed her Master of Music degree at the Manhattan School of Music from 2005-2007. At MSM, she performed the roles of Livia in L’Italiana in Londra and La Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi. Before attending the Manhattan School of Music, Miss Tulyaganova performed roles with many opera companies throughout the East Coast. These include Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi with Mississippi Opera, Musetta in La Bohème with Cantiamo Opera Theatre in New York, and Micaëla in Carmen with the Brooklyn-Queens Conservatory. From 2002-2004, Miss Tulyaganova performed in numerous scenes with Opera Las Vegas, including Mimí in La Bohème, the title role in Lakmé, and Frasquita in Carmen. With the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, she has sung the roles of Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus and Lola in Gallantry, as well as appearing in UNLV’s opera scenes program as Musetta in La Bohème and Violetta in La Traviata. Her Fiordiligi at the Hubbard Hall Opera and her Countess in the Capital Opera’s Marriage of Figaro have been warmly acclaimed. Miss Tulyaganova has appeared as a soloist in many concert engagements, including Brahms’ A German Requiem with the Las Vegas Music Arts Orchestra, Handel’s Messiah with the Las Vegas Philharmonic Orchestra, and a Russian Music Recital with the Las Vegas Russian Trio. Miss Tulyaganova is the winner of multiple notable awards. These include being a two-time district winner at the Metropolitan National Council Auditions, a district winner of the 2002 NATSAA competition, a winner of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas concerto competition, and a finalist in the Meistersinger Competition in Graz, Austria. She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts from Stony Brook University.

She has also designed and made dresses for her own recitals and for fellow singers.

Readers Comments (3)

  1. Lawrence de Martin March 4, 2012 @ 00:32

    I am so glad to see some superlatives regarding this performance as others have been restrained – I thought it was among the best Baroque programs I have heard, and persons more authoritative than I confirm Ms. Genaux’s hegemony.

    I differ on other particulars, however. I have been immersed in Historically Informed Performance for the last ten years. I have subscribed to Zankel Hall since it opened and it is my favorite for this music. Secular Baroque music was performed in chambers deadened by lavish fabric and upholstery and the intended acoustic is less reverberant than contemporary symphony spaces, opera halls or houses of worship.

    I find the articulation of Zankel superb throughout, which is essential for the authentic tempi you described and Ms. Genaux’s eighth note melismas. Besides sampling various sections for non-subscription events I had the opportunity to run the hall during a rehearsal of an electro-acoustic ensemble and the timbral balance is more uniform than any other venue in my memory. The subway is unfortunate but the rumble is not in conflicting range with the leads and I have gladly learned to ignore it rather than suffer amplification or the strained tone and mushy acoustics of larger scale opera.

    I have heard Europa Galante several times, and this evening was a marvel of unity resembling my ideal of OPP. It seems you believe bigger is better, and so deprecate gut strings and Baroque sized violins. Biondi’s delicate, fluid embellishments were breathtaking and his direction non-pareil, with the effect of ensemble just harmonic chords nearly overwhelming in beauty that drew me in like a Flemish miniature.

    I find the 19th Century European music to be bombastic, over-dramatized music for the uneducated middle class who assumed patronage; and well tempering sounds out of tune (why would you want all keys to be equal?) so I expect we will disagree; but for aficionados of the 18th Century you might try acclimating a bit more rather than using anachronistic measures.

  2. I find it very interesting how the written language can be understood in a completely different way.
    I can only blame myself for not giving more details. So, please allow me to explain.

    I don’t know what made you think that I like “bigger the better”? Maybe it was the phrase “Baroque music in general is not very loud” but it was just a true statement that does not express any feelings about historically informed performance practices or about the Baroque as a style.
    I think Zankel Hall with its dry acoustics is too big for chamber music. In fact, I’d rather to hear this kind of music in a much more intimate space like Weill Recital Hall. But since the concert was in Zankel Hall, I think it needed more live acoustics for this particular performance so that the sound travels to everyone in the audience. And as a singer, I prefer more “live” halls (not necessarily big) and especially for “authentic” fast tempi. It’s much easier on the voice. I haven’t sung at this space yet, although, there is a possibility that I may this coming fall, so I am looking forward to discovering the secrets of it. Having said all that, I think the sound also depends on where you are seated as a member of the audience. Again, I don’t know Zankel Hall well enough (as I mentioned in the very beginning of the article), but I am sure I will go back to learn more. As far as the subway noise, I guess there is nothing one can do, and I am glad that you’ve learned to ignore it.

    I respect that you found Mr. Biondi’s playing “breathtaking” I won’t even argue here, because it’s just an opinion, and if I didn’t find him “breathtaking” it doesn’t mean that I am wrong, it’s just a matter of likes and dislikes. In my opinion Mr. Biondi is an excellent leader and the ensemble sounded absolutely “breathtaking” under his leadership, but as a soloist I didn’t find his performance satisfactory. Maybe I am influenced by “over-dramatized” 19th century virtuoso solo music.

    I do not understand why you even decided to mention 19th century music? Do we have rights to make such an actually rather disrespectful conclusion about the two completely different styles? I happen to love both styles and I would not even dare to compare them in such a way. I think every style has good and bad in it and with all due respect, 17-18th century music is no exception to it.

    • Lawrence de Martin March 7, 2012 @ 13:02

      I laud most of your review. You clearly have a deep feeling, cultivated musical intelligence and wider education than me. I had nothing to add to your praise of this event – my reason for writing was advocacy of Historically Informed Performance, which comprises circa 1% of “Classical” music.

      I love Zankel Hall and consider it ideal for Baroque, based on subscribing to the Baroque series since the Hall opening and on attending hundreds of other Early Music specialist performances in New York and Boston over the last ten years. It is remarkable that the articulation is good to the last chair in the balcony of a 600 seat floorplan. I have had opportunity to walk every row during a rehearsal of complex contemporary music and heard a score with four marimbas from the back. By the tenth row of Weill Recital Hall there is too much room sound for my liking – my subscription seats there are fourth row.

      Secular Baroque music was chamber music. With some exceptions intended for outdoors (Water Music, Fireworks) it was performed by chamber sized ensembles in actual chambers or halls limited in size by wood frame free-spans, and typically furnished to be less lively than contemporary architecture. It was most commonly one player per part, and performed at a pace including trills and flourishes that doesn’t work in larger or more reverberant spaces. The instruments were much quieter and the singers and strings had very different tone. The woodwinds had smaller bores, the strings were gut, the sounding boards of harpsichords and lutes are miniscule in comparison to 19th Century concert pianos when the economics of ticket sales, the technology of iron and steel, the noise of cities and industry conspired to largeness and loudness. It is only in the past few decades that a small cadre of Baroque scholar/performers are throwing off the veils of 19th Century re-interpretation which subsumed the aural history of the earlier, quieter time.

      Here are your quotes that I interpret as bias to 19th Century loudness:

      “Baroque music in general is not very loud and therefore needs a hall that has really live acoustics”

      “it’s not big, for Baroque one doesn’t need a big voice.”

      “I heard.. the sound of an orchestra violinist, not a soloist”

      I also read your resume with an extensive list of 19th-20th Century opera, but only two Mozart roles both performed with modern orchestras -steel strings, keyed large bore woodwinds, etc.

      Your formal education does not appear to include one Early Music department. MSM offers a one semester survey of Baroque which is not sufficient immersion, and I would guess they play renditions by current violin stars and major orchestras which are overbearing with respect to the original intent and practice. Neither UNLV nor Stony Brook have more historically informed pedagogy according to the catalogs. I know little of Uzbekistan, but I suspect like in Russia and Georgia ancient music is mainly preserved in sacred context, as in your comments about church being more conducive acoustics. Therefore it is understandable that you have a residual historical bias, and being confronted with a different acoustic and practice have some acclimation time like the rest of the 99%.

      Your open-mindedness and natural hearing embraced most of the “otherness”.
      While you are in New York, I recommend seeking the local H.I.P. scene as we are rich in Music Directors and performers. Maybe the next time Mr. Biondi’s choices will make more sense.


      Lawrence de Martin

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