Mysliveček, Gluck, & Genaux

Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux reacts joyfully to each piece in her recent performance with Collegium 1704.

Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux reacts joyfully to each piece in her recent performance with Collegium 1704.

Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux earns a standing ovation for her Mar 18 concert with Collegium 1704.

“Perhaps at no other time were there so many celebrated musicians from the Czech lands living outside of their homeland as in the 18th century,” begin the program notes from this extraordinary concert in Collegium 1704′s “Baroque Opera Stars” series.

And the program this evening mainly features works by two ‘ex-pat’ Bohemians, Josef Mysliveček (born and raised in Prague, unofficially ‘adopted’ by opera lovers in Italy); and Christoph Willibald Gluck (raised by Bohemian parents in northern Bohemia, usually identified as being German). Even the soloist for the evening, Vivica Genaux, was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska (but now lives in Italy, when not touring the world as a rising mezzo-soprano).

Mrs Genaux sang selections mainly from alternating composers Mysliveček (Ezio, 1775, revised 1777; L’Olimpiade) and Gluck (also Ezio, 1750, revised 1763; Paride ed Elena). She entranced the audience with her lively, “acting” style of singing and her clear mezzo voice.

Seeing her sing leaves an indelible impression not only because of her powerful voice, full and clear even on top notes; but also because of her style of singing and her telepathic warmth for the music, musicians, and audience.

“She is an absolute professional, very friendly and open,” Collegium 1704 conductor Václav Luks tells Opus Osm. “Some singers want to sing the same repertoire wherever they appear, but Vivica Genaux is open to trying new works.” He confides that his “big dream” is to stage a full opera production with her someday, with his “big loves, either Hasse or Gluck.”

Mrs Genaux sings in an unusual way, with her lower jaw almost “vibrating” each embellished, coloratura note. In an interview published recently online, she explained that many people think it’s by design or special training — but, she says, it has been just her own way since she first began singing.

Opus Osm 15 04 014 1704 Genaux Cx msIn fact, her technique focuses on other aspects, such as correct breathing (she compares muscle control for singing to almost like that for belly-dancing), according to the published article. Forming the correct shape of the mouth to pronounce the vowels and consonants compatibly with the sound is also vital, she believes. She has described this as a kind of “speaking the words with singing.”

The result for the listener is actually more like witnessing a vignette from a theatre-play-with-music: The emotion, position, and character of the singer in the operatic story is clear and understood, even from just the excerpted arias.

The talents of the 25-piece ensemble Collegium 1704 and its conductor Václav Luks were on full display at this evening’s concert, and Vivica Genaux expressed her appreciation for them with her own applause and clasped hands after each number.

This concert marks the founding of the Josef Mysliveček Institute for the Arts of the 18th Century, and was a highlight of an international conference on the topic March 17-18. — oo

— Mary Matz, editor of Opus Osm

The final Collegium 1704 concert in this season’s “Baroque Opera Stars” will be the Apr 15 performance of JS Bach’s St Matthew Passion at 7:30 pm at The Rudolfinum.

Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička

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