Classical CD of the Week
"Sensationally successful in the mid-18th century, Johann Hasse (1699-1783) was already deemed an anachronism by the end of his long life, and quickly fell into oblivion after his death. His operas, stylistically on the cusp of the baroque and the galant, trade heavily in virtuosity - the kind of extravagant display that Gluck sought to banish in Orfeo. Only singers with perfect coloratura techniques need apply.
Enter the ochre-toned Alaskan mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, who makes an eloquent case for Hasse in arias by turns showy and soulful. She is wonderfully assured and elegant in florid passagework - what the 18th century called "long divisions" - and spins a pure, graceful line in the dulcet musette aria from the cantata La scusa.
With reams of Hasse still unexplored, it is perhaps a pity that Genaux chose to devote half the disc to assorted Handel items. The potentially searing mad scene from Orlando sounds too equable, the one relative disappointment on the disc. In compensation, Genaux delivers the thrilling aria "Sta nell'Ircana" from Alcina with flamboyant bravado, egged on by the swaggering horns of the crack Canadian band.
Richard Wigmore, Telegraph.co.uk, December 30, 2006
**** (Virgin Classics)
Alaska-born mezzo soprano Vivica Genaux has captivated opera audiences with beguiling portrayals of Rossini's leading ladies, especially as Cinderella and as Rosina from "The Barber of Seville." (She'll sing Rosina with Dallas Opera in December.)
Genaux is also celebrated for her performances of heroes and heroines in Baroque opera. She opened the season in George Frideric Handel's "Semele" at New York City Opera in September, performances that coincided with the release of her fourth solo CD, which features arias from operas and cantatas by Handel and Baroque-era contemporary Johann Adolf Hasse.
These pieces -- including arias from Handel's operas "Orlando" and "Alcina" and from Hasse's "Arminio" -- show off Genaux's lively facility and gracious artistry.
There is joy in her singing, and jaw-dropping vocal virtuosity. An aura of elegance -- and honest, forthright emotions -- draws listeners deep into the music.
Energetic and nuanced orchestral partnership is given by conductor Bernard Labadie and the Canadian early-music ensemble Les Violons du Roy.
Even slower numbers brim with rhythmic vitality. The crystalline instrumentation on these Baroque gems showcases an American singer at her finest.
-- Chris Shull, Wichita Eagle, Oct. 15, 2006
"Alaska-born mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux's newest CD, "Arias", featuring thirteen works of Handel and Hasse is going to pique the interest a lot of opera lovers who may not fashion themselves as fans of the Baroque style of music. This will happen for three reasons: first, Ms. Genaux has a fantastic and agile voice that exemplifies a level of technical virtuosity that is truly hypnotic in the manner of its pure sound and the precise rhythmic delivery; second, the orchestration throughout this recording from the chamber orchestra Les Violons du Roy is full and resonant, and complimentary to the singer never pushy, never weak, just right; lastly, the selection of the titles performed is pleasing to the ear, which when joined with a marvelous voice as we have here, you end up with a winner on all counts and this is coming from someone who is not big a fan of the Baroque style. Interestingly, I found this CD pleasing from the very opening notes of Handel's " Orlando " (Fammi combattere mostri e tifei), and never lost interest, right to the very end. It is the comfortable resonance of Ms. Genaux's voice, a smooth, effortless mezzo sound (although we know from the way her voice maneuvers scales and around the tricky sixteenths etc, that she only makes it seem effortless) that will captivate and draw the listener into the style and period of music which is her forte. Ms. Genaux's repertoire encompasses twenty-nine roles, twenty-one of which are trouser parts. She is also known for her bel canto repertoire of Rossini favorites: Rosina in "Il barbiere di Siviglia," Angelina in "La Cenerentola," and the feisty Isabella in "L'Italiana in Algeri." While this writer has criticized the use of women in trouser roles on stage, the mezzo voice is ideally suited for trouser roles on CD, and no one captures the vocal beauty or flawless manner of delivery imbedded in the Baroque period of writing better than Vivica Genaux does in this, her latest release. Sit back and enjoy as I did."
OperaOnline.us, Worldwide reviews for a worldwide audience, September 2006
A Relative Newcomer Makes Her Mark
"Tomorrow night, City Opera will open its season with Handel's Semele, and in the cast will be Vivica Genaux. Who's she? You will want to make her acquaintance: Ms. Genaux is an Alaska-born — yes, Alaska-born — mezzo-soprano who excels in bel canto and Baroque. Those who can't get to the New York State Theater should pick up her recent CD from Virgin Classics. On it she sings arias of Handel and Hasse.
Hasse? Yeah, good question: He was a contemporary of Handel who, though German, inclined Italian (even as Handel, though German, inclined English ... and Italian). It was Hasse who, on hearing an early Mozart opera — Ascanio in Alba — made the immortal remark, ‘This boy will cause us all to be forgotten.’
Ms. Genaux cleans up in both Handel and Hasse. Staking out Marilyn Horne territory, she begins with Handel's ‘Fammi combattere,’ from Orlando. And she sings it smashingly. If Ms. Genaux were an instrumentalist, we'd call her a virtuoso. Her technique is assured, unencumbered, almost carefree. (Of course, this is a recording — we must check out the real thing.) Her ornamentation is both imaginative and appropriate. The entire CD conforms to a very high standard.
I might say, too, that Ms. Genaux has a surprising, exciting upper register. Really, is there anything more thrilling in music — certainly vocal music — than a mezzo's high notes? Neither a soprano's nor anyone else's can match them, somehow.
Accompanying Ms. Genaux is the worthy French-Canadian group Les Violons du Roy, conducted by their founder, Bernard Labadie. New York had a taste of them when they came to Zankel Hall last February with Magdalena Kožená, the Czech mezzo. With Ms. Genaux, they are vibrant, incisive, and completely committed. This is not Baroque wallpaper, thank goodness.
Opera freaks will perhaps appreciate the following, insidery line: For Vivica Genaux, I am ‘sur mes genoux ...’ (That is, I am ‘on my knees,’ borrowing from the first words of a once famous Meyerbeer aria.)"
Jay Nordlinger, The New York Sun, September 12, 2006
Artistic Quality: 10, Sound Quality: 10
"It may seem odd to begin a review of a solo-vocal recital with praise for the orchestra, but in this case the instrumental ensemble is such a vibrant, powerful, invigorating force that its impact on the performances can't be ignored. Not that the outstanding Quebec-based Les Violons du Roy in any way upstages or obstructs the superb singing of world-class mezzo Vivica Genaux--to the contrary, playing at this level of technical accomplishment and artistic sensitivity serves only to inspire and complement the soloist, and vice versa. Genaux is simply unsurpassed as an interpreter of this repertoire, and her vocal credentials are unassailable, proven in several earlier recorded Handel performances--"astounding agility, vivid color, and solid, sustained power that underlies every note, ornament, and run from top to bottom" (Arias for Farinelli--type Q5325 in Search Reviews); "a vivid, involved hero, singing with great evenness, impressive tenderness in the yearning arias, and no fear of Handel's fiercer music" (Rinaldo--type Q6354).
While the Handel selections here are basically just top-tier show-off music (which Genaux and her orchestral partners relish to the fullest), the Hasse arias demand more expressive depth. And Genaux characterizes each of these--especially the extended recitative "Placati, o pastorella"--with the requisite style and dramatic flair, and Bernard Labadie and his orchestra light a fire that both illuminates and energizes her equally-scintillating vocal lines.
As good as Genaux is--and she's certainly among the best in this repertoire, along with the amazing Stephanie Blythe (also on Virgin--type Q4499 in Search Reviews), star billing here must be shared by Labadie and Les Violons du Roy. Just listen to the aria from Handel's Alcina and try to find or even imagine a more exciting, rhythmically charged, clean, articulate orchestral performance. Indeed, this--including Genaux's solo work--is likely the single best Handel aria performance ever recorded. For years I've been singing the praises of this superb orchestra and conductor, whose early work appeared on the very fine but now-defunct Dorian label, but I'll say it one more time: if you haven't heard Les Violons du Roy, then you haven't heard one of the world's top-three Baroque-music orchestras. And Labadie deserves the acclaim and respect routinely assigned to such conductors as Koopman, Harnoncourt, and Herreweghe. Listen for yourself--and prepare to be impressed, and persuaded"
David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com, click here for link