Vivica Genaux

Vivaldi's Juditha triumphans at PBO

Van de Sant Portrait new* Notes * 
The 2013-2014 season of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra ended with Vivaldi's only surviving oratorio Juditha triumphans devicta Holofernis barbarie. The work features a few of the more unusual Baroque instruments. Violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock played viola d'amore in "Quanto magis generosa" and clarinetist Eric Hoeprich played a chalumeau in "Veni, veni, me sequere fida." Both of these arias are for Juditha, and were sung beautifully by mezzo-soprano Cécile van de Sant (pictured left) at Sunday's concert in Berkeley. Her voice is rich and smoky, with great resonance. The orchestra was in fine form, as was the chorus. One was especially impressed at how the chorus was able to nuance the different roles it played.

The rest of the singing was more than competent. Soprano Dominique Labelle sang the role of Juditha's handmaid Abra. Mezzo-soprano Diana Moore sang Holofernes with authority, she did a particularly nice rendition of "Seda, o cara, dilecta speciosa." Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux sounded bright as Vagaus, the squire of Holofernes. Her parts with the chorus were wonderful and her coloratura in "Quamvis ferro, et ense gravis" was incredible.

* Tattling * 
I was sandwiched between subscribers that talked over me before the performance, but were kindly apologetic about doing so. They did keep fairly quiet during the music. Someone's mobile telephone in Row F quacked while Holofernes sang recitative.

I was under the impression this performance would be two hours or perhaps two and a half hours long, but with a run time of three, I sadly had to leave at intermission.

PBO's 2011-2012 Season

September 15-17 2011: Dido & Aeneas
September 22-25 2011: Mozart & Haydn
October 25-30 2011: Arias for Farinelli
November 18-22 2011: Marion Verbruggen & The Italian Baroque
December 2-6 2011: Bach's Mass in B minor
January 26-29 2012: Richard Egarr: Masters of the English Baroque
March 6-11 2012: Steven Isserlis: The Classical Cello
April 20-25 2012: Händel's Alexander's Feast

Philharmonia Baroque announced their next season today. Stephanie Blythe will be singing Dido in Dido and Aeneas this September, Mark Morris Dance Company performs. Vivica Genaux sings in the October performances of Vivaldi, Fasch, Telemann, and Rameau.

Official Site | 2011-2012 Season

Pittsburgh Opera's 2008-2009 Season

October 18-26 2008: Samson et Dalila
November 15-23 2008: The Grapes of Wrath
February 7-15 2009: Don Pasquale
March 28- April 5 2009: La Bohème
May 2-10 2009: L'Italiana in Algeri

Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe is singing Dalila, which should be interesting. Vivica Genaux and William Burden sing the lead roles in L'Italiana, as they did in San Francisco a few seasons ago, and it is the same cute Santa Fe production as we saw here. Former Adler Fellow Sean Pannikar will sing Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath.

Official Site | Post-Gazette Article | Tribune-Review Article


Ken_howard_brian_asawa_lisa_medThe Met production of Händel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto opened at San Diego Opera last Saturday. This production was in San Francisco in 2002, so I was familiar with both the music and the staging. This was somewhat unfortunate, as it started off badly, Ewa Podleś, in the lead role, was ahead of the orchestra. The conductor, Kenneth Montgomery, attempted to catch up to Podleś, and it was just painful, they sounded rushed and confused. It was a disappointment, as Podleś has an incredible voice. She was also off during the aria "Va tacito e nascosto." The production would have benefited from a prompter. If there was one, I did not see this person, and it certainly did not sound like there was a souffleur.

Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux played and sang the part of Sesto rather well, her aria that ends Act II was one of the best moments of the evening. Perhaps my poor impression of her in Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria was just because the production was so awful, because she sang well in L'Italiana in Algeri.

Countertenor Brian Asawa was fabulous as the villain, Tolomeo, acting and singing well. He seemed so unassuming when he replaced David Daniels in Saul, I was surprised to see how much he swaggered and so forth.

I was unimpressed by Lisa Saffer's Cleopatra, her voice is nice, if not somewhat bland, until she gets to her high range. When singing loudly at this range, she sounded out of control.

I hope that Florida Grand Opera's production of this opera, which comes to Seattle next year, is better. Alexandra Deshorties joins Podleś and Asawa, it should be interesting.

Sundry Performance Notes

Yesterday someone pulled the fire alarm at just ten minutes before curtain time for the last performance of L'Italiana. Everyone filed out in an orderly fashion, but it took quite a long time to get back inside and settled in again. During the performance I wanted to note that in Act II, Vivica Genaux does a pivot with floreos where Olga Borodina did a cute head slide gesture that went with the music better. Also I would like to remember how nicely William Burden and Ricardo Herrera danced throughout, but especially when they are explaining to Mustafà about the Papatacci, their dance that involved pesk horns at the end was charming.

The latter part of Act II bears a striking resemblance to parts of Così fan tutte. The scene in which Isabella sings "Pensa alla patria" has a choral part like "Bella vita militar!" When Taddeo gives Mustafà the oath of the Papatacci, "Di veder e non veder," it is somewhat like the scene Così where Despina pretends to be the notary.

Additionally, Patrick Stewart was at the symphony the night before last. I believe he had a box. He probably couldn't hear Leon Fleisher's vocalizing from so far away. Though the acoustics at Davies are rather special.

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The alternate in the title role for San Francisco opera's production of L'Italiana in Algeri is excellent. I was not impressed by mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux in Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria, but I think her voice is better suited to something airy and light like L'Italiana. Her voice was incredible in the role of Isabella, her ornamentation was good and her bird-like voice is prettier than Borodina's. Genaux does seem more awkward than Borodina, almost boyish, she doesn't have that swagger and sass. Also to be noted, the other alternate, bass Dean Peterson, was pretty good as Mustafà, but still not perfect.

I was glad to see that some of the choreography was changed to suit Genaux and Peterson, it makes more sense than forcing them to do movement that worked perfectly on Borodina and Abdrazakov. For example, at the end of Act I when Isabella is first presented to Mustafà, Borodina slyly steals Mustafà's turban and pushes him off his velvet throne. On the other hand, tiny Genaux could not carry this off, so instead she climbs on the throne and and steals the turban from there. Genaux does not quite have the same confidence in movement as Borodina, but she did rather well, considering she is an opera singer, and Borodina certainly is an exception.

The performance solidified my admiration for tenor William Burden, his voice is certainly worth hearing again.


Aldenritorno1Bayerische Staatoper's production of Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria had almost no redeeming qualities. If they find Baroque operas so boring they shouldn't bother putting them on. It shows very little respect to be making Monteverdi's opera into a farce. It was so bad that even I could not sit through it twice, though I had a ticket for the performance on the 18th, the thought of going again made me feel ill.

David Alden's remarkable work included the return of the Chattering Teeth head, playboy bunnies, a gigantic projected raven, hot dogs, and the eating of a cat. If he had only stopped here, it would have been merely bad. The laughter that ensued after this must have been gratifying. I'm sure they were pleased to be able to use the Chattering Teeth head again in Siegfried.

Worse yet, the singers were made to tap dance and flamenco during the music, although the movements involved are both percussive and inappropriate for Monteverdi. It made me wish for the drunken staggering Alden has used in every other production of his I've seen, at least that is not loud. Also, some of the singers would punctuate their parts with stuttering or screaming, elements not found in the music.

It must have been difficult for the audience to focus on the singing, they talked and laughed quite a lot. Rodney Gilfry, who sang the title role, has an excellent voice, very rich and full. Vivica Genaux, as Penelope, was disappointing, the mezzo's voice is underdeveloped. She sounds light and young. Toby Spence (Telemaco) also sounded a bit young, but for his part it was appropriate.

I was unable to get a good feel for Monteverdi from this opera, as the production was distracting. The scene in which Odysseus kills the suitors had the most powerful music.