A Tribute to Faustina Bordoni

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COMPOSERS: Handel; Hasse
LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: A Tribute to Faustina Bordoni
WORKS: Handel: Arias from Alessandro, Radamisto & Tolomeo, Re d’Egitto; Hasse: Overtures from Il Ciro Pompilio, Cajo Fabricio, Il Ciro riconosciuto etc
PERFORMER: Vivia Genaux (mezzo-soprano); Caoella Gabetta/Andrés Gabetta
CATALOGUE NO: 88691944592

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Following Roberta Invernizzi’s superb celebration of Baroque prima donna Faustina Bordoni (on Glossa, June issue’s Recording of the Month), here is another attempt, this time by mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, to showcase that influential singer. Genaux sizzles in every track: the vigour and dizzying pace of her florid passagework, the effulgence of her sustained notes and the richness of her vocal hues – particularly in the bottom register – are spectacular. The match with Faustina, who was celebrated for her fire, precision and velvety tone, is perfect.

Less perfect, however, are the programming and the booklet notes included with the disc, both of which are clearly Hasse- rather than Faustina-driven. Together, they reinforce errors long since corrected by scholars. We now know, for instance, that Faustina never fought with Cuzzoni on stage, that she had eclipsed all other sopranos by 1728, and that her husband, Johann Adolph Hasse, piggybacked on her fame.

This disc suggests that Faustina owed her success to her husband’s flashy arias, while in fact she sang 92 operas by 31 composers and was renowned for matching vocal pyrotechnics with moments of disarming ‘naturalness’ – a balance notably absent in this recording. Director Andrés Gabetta and his ensemble smother detail under grand gesture, particularly where obbligato lines should deepen poetry. Given the wealth of scholarship on Faustina, why must her legacy, and Genaux’s artistry, be lumbered with composer‑centred interests?

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Berta Joncus