his operatic career, Handel had a less than reverential attitude
to singers. That he could write splendid roles for them is indicated
by the way many leading singers sang for him. But the numerous
anecdotes about Handel rounding on singers who refused to sing
the music written for them are indications of the independence
of his attitude, even if we must take the details of these stories
with a pinch of salt. Castrato Senesino famously refused to
sing Verdi prati because it was not elaborate enough,
though when he did actually sing it in the opera Alcina
it went on to be a great success. Senesinoís last work for Handel
was the title role in the opera Orlando. Though politics and in-fighting had much to do with
Senesinoís decision to leave Handel, the rather unique nature
of the role of Orlando must
Initially Orlando is portrayed as a knight,
but the warring claims of love and war - and the fact that he
canít get the beloved he wants - send him mad. The result is
a striking mad scene. Well, striking to us; it was probably
at the very edge of what Senesino considered acceptable and
it is doubtful if he was in complete sympathy with Handelís
issue of virtuosity and writing showy roles for singers is brought
to the forefront on this new disc of Baroque arias from Vivica
Genaux. She sings a pair from Orlando along with other Handel arias. But then contrasts them
with music by his contemporary Hasse, who wrote music in the
virtuosic style beloved of singers.
sings Orlandoís showy aria Fammi combattere mostri e tifei
with a creamy tone and good fioriture. Her lively interpretation
is confident and brilliant, suiting the music, but I did rather
find her ornamentation in the da capo arias over-elaborate.
In Orlandoís mad scene she adds to these virtues, a powerful dramatic
sense in the recitative and vivid projection of the kaleidoscope
of emotions which Orlando is going through.
nellíIrcana pietrosa tana
from Alcina is another display aria. Handel sets the rather
conventional simile text with brilliant music that here shows
Genaux off to her best: not only the brilliance of her voice,
but the gripping excitement of her performance. It is a shame
that she does not also include Verdi prati to show us
another aria that Senesino found less than conventional.
completes the Handel group with his cantata Splenda líalba
in oriente. This consists of a pair of arias separated by
a recitative, extols the power of virtue and implores Cecilia
to inspire the merits of virtue in the listeners. It is a late
cantata, written in London in 1711/12, though what we have is evidently just a
fragment of the whole. It is a charming piece and Genaux delivers
it beautifully, making me wish that she had included more of
this repertoire on the disc.
all the Handel arias, though, Genaux displays the same tendency
to over-elaboration in the ornamentation, but she does it so
brilliantly that you canít get too worked up over it.
follows the Handel cantata with a group of arias from Hasseís
opera† Arminio and his cantata La scusa. Hasse
writes much more in the galant style than Handel; his music
is always gracious and elegant. The vocal lines are always vocally
elaborate, allowing the singer to display their virtuoso technique.
Even the slower aria Vaghi rai, pupille amate has a decorative
vocal line. In vocal terms, Genaux is superb giving all these
arias with a lovely sense of line, creamy tone and fluid virtuosity.
But I never really get much sense of the emotion behind the
roulades, it seems that for Hasse and his singersí virtuosity
wrote the arias whilst he was kapellmeister to the Elector of
Saxony; whilst there he created an enviable operatic ensemble
which included some of the finest singers of his day. His style
was sympathetic to the singerís demands. It helped, of course,
that Hasse was married to a singer who had been one of Handelís
is well supported by Les Violons du Roy under Bernard Labadie.
The group provides a crisp, attractively bouncy accompaniment.
disc is a magnificent showcase for the talents of Vivica Genaux.
By combining the arias of Hasse and Handel she shows us that
whilst Hasseís virtuoso requirements hold no fears for her,
she is also comfortable with Handelís more sophisticated musical
could imagine a slightly more imaginatively programmed version
of this disc, but on its own terms it provides some brilliant
singing from a superb singer. What more could one ask for.