A legend in his lifetime, the great castrato Farinelli has continued to inspire fascinated enquiry, in the form of novels, films and other fictionalised accounts. This collection of arias associated with him is a re-creation of his art not by a countertenor, but by a mezzo-soprano, one whose stunning vocal skills surely rival those of the 18th-century master.
While Vivica Genaux has all the virtuosity needed to negotiate the intricately embellished lines in these songs, she knows, too, as did Farinelli, how to use ornamentation for expressive effect. That can be heard, for example, in ‘Ombra fedele anch’io’ from Riccardo Broschi’s Idaspe, in which the ravishing low-lying vocal line of the despairing lover is accompanied by the eloquent strings of the Berlin Academy of Ancient Music, with hunting horns adding their atmospheric colour. ‘Quel guerriero in campo armato’ from the same opera was Farinelli’s celebrated battle aria, full of daring leaps and breathtaking runs, and here Genaux’s artistry is simply dazzling.
In the nightingale aria, ‘Quell’usignolo’, from Giacomelli’s Merope, Genaux actually uses the coloratura ornaments written down by Farinelli himself. It’s all hugely impressive, and with René Jacobs and the Berlin AAM so responsive to every nuance, it’s a wonderful musical experience too. Strongly recommended.