Vivica Genaux is one of the foremost Baroque singers of our day, both in opera and in concert. Here she was paired with countertenor Lawrence Zazzo, probably less well-known but definitely her equal in this programme conducted by Wolfgang Katschner with his Lautten Compagney Berlin. The concert featured a mix of composers of the high Baroque (Lampugnani, Hasse, Porpora, Vivaldi, Galuppi) and some slightly later ones (Wagenseil, Traetta) but with a preponderance of Handel – fittingly enough, as this was part of the Halle Handel Festival. Happily, Katschner managed to restrain himself from added timpani.

Wolfgang Katschner, Vivica Genaux and Lawrence Zazzo with the Lautten Compagney Berlin © Thomas Ziegler
Wolfgang Katschner, Vivica Genaux and Lawrence Zazzo with the Lautten Compagney Berlin
© Thomas Ziegler

Genaux is always a generous performer, with an endearing stage personality and always striking visually. As has often been observed, her voice production technique is an ongoing mystery with what looks like an unstable jaw, out of which comes a mezzo voice of great range, accuracy, flexibility and ultimate musicality. On this occasion her outfit of skintight leather pants and high heeled strappy sandals was topped by a black and white tunic, changing to a more pink and gilded version after the interval. Zazzo was equally infectious, looking a little like Handel himself, in a red velvet jacket and cool red shoes. His voice features an unforced golden tone as well as effortless coloratura.

The concert began with a sprightly Allegro from Hasse’s Siroe, with a very balanced sound from the 22-piece orchestra, which included two horns, two oboes, two flutes and two theorboes. Other short instrumental pieces separated brackets of vocal music, all well-played at good tempi.

The first vocal offering was a duet from Lampugnani’s version of Semiramide riconosciuta, in which the voices were well matched, with lots of volume and everything fully supported and accompanied by horns. The two voices have very different timbres, with Genaux sometimes sounding darker and sometimes lighter than Zazzo; she is reminsiscent of Marilyn Horne in having a unique sound, but in a different way. This was followed by Zazzo’s first solo, another aria from Lampugnani's work, highly dramatic and sung furioso but still with refulgent tone. While he sang, Genaux listened intently, reflecting his mood, and this kind of interpersonal character portrayal continued throughout. Genaux’s first aria was a Porpora number from his version of Semiramide riconosciuta, a slower, more introspective aria sung with conviction and affect.

Wolfgang Katschner, Vivica Genaux and Lawrence Zazzo with the Lautten Compagney Berlin © Thomas Ziegler
Wolfgang Katschner, Vivica Genaux and Lawrence Zazzo with the Lautten Compagney Berlin
© Thomas Ziegler

To pick up some highlights in a show with no lowlights, Genaux is known as a Vivaldi exponent, and her rendition of a recitative-accompagnato-aria sequence from Orlando furioso, which concludes with a full-on bravura passage work, was very warmly received as she acknowledged the orchestra and did a little dance. The first half concluded with a duet by Galuppi from Siroe, which was extremely well acted as well as sung. Another duet followed in the second half – Handel’s “Gran pena è gelosia” from Serse – brief, but intense. Zazzo then sang a female alto role following this theme – Bradamante’s “È gelosia” from Alcina – with great coloratura and a judicious drop into the chest. Another item from Serse, “Se bramate”, offered another opportunity for fireworks from Genaux. The programme concluded with a curiously (in its original context) sprightly duet from Handel’s Deidamia, his last Italian opera.

The ecstatic audience was rewarded with three Handel encores. Zazzo sang a beautiful rendition of “Yet can I hear that dulcet lay” from The Choice of Hercules accompanied by flutes, and Genaux, with the assistance of bassoonist Inga Maria Klaucke, turned in a classic virtuosic performance of “Venti turbini’ from Rinaldo. The final duet was a ravishing performance of “Son nata a lagrimar” from Giulio Cesare in Egitto, with feeling and tasteful decoration concluding in a stunning dual cadenza.

****1