I refuse to go back into the dark, deep archives and dig out the first words I ever wrote about Vivica Genaux, because it was quite a few years ago and I was weirdly – and wrongheadedly – opinionated about baroque music and baroque voices, and I have a sneaking feeling that whatever I wrote would make me cringe. (You're welcome to go looking, if you much, but I'd ask you not to report back.) Anyway, whatever I thought then, she's been a firm favourite of mine for a long time now and praise be to Lonely Planet for pointing me to the existence of the Salle Gaveau, which I might otherwise have missed, and which two nights ago was the final stop on Vivica's concert tour with Cappelle Gabetta.
The tour is linked to a new album which, like every vocal release these days, is a tribute to a diva of days gone by – in this case, Faustina Bordoni, one of Handel's star singers and the wife of fellow composer Johann Adolf Hasse. Arias from both populated the concert, along with a healthy serving of Vivaldi and a little bit of Broschi. If you know your baroque and particularly if you know your Vivica Genaux, you know what that means. She sang this:
For as long as I've known who Vivica was, I've associated her closely with this aria, courtesy first of her Farinelli tribute album and then of the recording captured above, Vivaldi's pasticcio Bajazet. So to hear her sing it in person was pretty special, and all the more so because I hadn't actually bought a programme and thus had no idea it was coming. Like when I heard Barbara Bonney sing Solveig's Song in recital, and Alison Krauss sing "Now That I've Found You" live in concert, it was a wonderful full circle moment: a favourite singer singing one of the songs whch made me love her in the first place.
My failure on the programme buying front means I'm relying on my memory as far as the rest of the repertoire is concerned, which puts me on slightly shaky ground given the relative obscurity of some of the arias. Among the highlights whose titles I can recall, though, were Handel's "Lusinghe più care", Vivaldi's "Come in vano il mare irato" with all of its fiendish runs, leaps and bounds, "Sposa son disprezzata" (Giacomelli via Vivaldi's Bajazet) and some very beautiful Hasse: "Piange quel fonte" was especially striking, as was "Ah! Che mancar mi sento", the first of two encores. The second, chosen "because a friend of mine who's here said she's kill me if I didn't sing it" was Vivaldi's mile-a-minute "Agitata da due venti". You know, because the concert proper clearly hadn't been jawdroppingly virtuosic enough.
I had a less than spectacular seat but was still able to see Vivica for most of the concert, and the sound in this little jewel of a recital hall (built, like the Wigmore Hall and the Salle Pleyel, to showcase pianos) was excellent. Several people on Twitter had actually suggested I might not want to see her, having themselves found her unusual manner of vocal production (you'll see it in the video above) disconcerting. I can't say it bothered me, though, and I was quite fascinated to watch the way she physically geared up for all that rapid fire singing: relaxing her facial muscles, grooving along a little to the orchestral interjections, and even, ahead of the coloratura monster that is "Quel guerriero", throwing a quick stretch. None of it struck me as remotely distracting: she was incredibly engaging and even, at one point, endearingly self deprecating, and the results speak – or rather sing – for themselves.
Her voice is one of those you can spot within a bar or two and one you could surely never mistake for anybody else's. It's silky smooth, a bit duskier than some of her counterparts; it's decadent, even, but never heavy, and impossibly nimble. Her lower register is fabulously smoky, her top as shiny as you'd like, and every note vibrates with expressive energy. Like many instantly recognisable singers, she may not be everybody's ideal, but she certainly had the all-but-full Salle Gaveau in the palm of her hand. Vociferous applause and scattered standing ovations erupted at every opportuniy, and it took several bows, with bouquet in her arms, before we unwillingly accepted that a third encore was not going to happen. Maybe next time.