Vivica Genaux – A Tribute to Faustina Bordoni

Hasse, Handel

Cappella Gabetta

Andrés Gabetta

Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 2012

Faustina Bordoni Hasse

Early Years

Mezzo-soprano Faustina Bordoni was born in 1697 in Venice. She was brought up under the protection of the brothers Alessandro and Benedetto Marcello and taught by Michelangelo Gasparini. In her hometown, Bordoni spent most of her early career and made some appearances in Milan, Bologna and Naples. Her debut took place in 1716 in Carlo Francesco Pollarolo’s Ariodante in Venice. In 1723, she debuted in Germany in Torri’s Griselda. The cities of Munic and Vienna appreciated her performances throughout the 1720s.

The London Years

In 1726, Bordoni made her London debut as Roxana in Handel’s Alessandro, with Cuzzoni and Senesino in the other leading roles. She also sang in the restagings of Alessandro. Moreover, she created four other roles: Alcestis in Admeto, Pulcheria in Riccardo Primo, Emira in Siroe and Elisa in Tolomeo.

Bordoni’s London years are not only remembered for her success in Handel’s operas, but also for her rivalry with Francesca Cuzzoni (you can read about her life and career in our review of Hasnaa Bennani’s wonderful recording Arie per la Cuzzoni). Bordoni is usually described as a kind woman, but her quarrel with her rival during a performance of Astianatte in 1727 remained famous. Despite the scandal, however, both singers where engaged for the following season.

In these years, Bordoni also appears in many Italian theatres. She was an habitué in her native Venice, where she sang during the 1728-1732 seasons.

Later Career

Bordoni married composer Johann Adolf Hasse in 1730. From that moment on she remained associated with his music. From 1731, when Hasse became Kappellmaister in Dresden, Bordoni often performed in the German city’s theatre. In 1751, Bordoni retired from the stage after singing in Hasse’s opera Il Ciro riconosciuto. She kept her salary and her rank as virtuosa da camera until 1763 and died in Venice in 1781.

A Contemporary Account

Burney described Faustina Bordoni’s singing as «articulate and brilliant. She had a fluent tongue for pronouncing words rapidly and distinctly, and a flexible throat for divisions, with so beautiful and quick a shake, that she could put it in motion upon short notice, just when she would. The passages might be smooth, or by leaps, or consist of iterations of the same tone, their execution was equally easy to her. […]

«She sung adagios with great passion and expression, but not equally well, if such deep sorrow were to be impressed on the hearer, as might require dragging, sliding, or notes of syncopation and tempo rubato. She had a very happy memory, in arbitrary changes and embellishments, and a clear and quick judgment in giving to words their full power and expression. In her action she was very happy; and as she perfectly possessed that flexibility of muscles and features, which constitutes face-playing, she succeeded equally well in furious, amorous, and tender parts; in short, she was born for singing and for acting».

A Tribute to Faustina Bordoni: the Performance

Vivica Genaux

Vivica Genaux’s recording A Tribute to Faustina Bordoni gives only to a certain extent the idea of greatness and of vocal splendour of the primadonna assoluta of the Baroque era. Genaux’s voice is not the most beautiful for timbre as her vibrato is a little too wide. However, her technique is sound and overall her taste is fine and her musicianship is out of question.

And yet, some of the eight arias of the Tribute (out of eleven) become monotonous after a while. It is clear that Genaux has tried to infuse a relaxed, quiet spirit to them, perhaps in the attempt to pay homage to Bordoni’s gentleness. The outcome, however, is not always charming. Longer arias (which unluckily open the recording) as Lusinghe più care from Handel’s Alessandro and Piange quel fonte from Hasse’s Numa Pompilio are rather difficult to appreciate to the end despite the fact that Genaux tries to avoid repetitiveness with her appropriate choice of accents and with her fine coloratura.

Things go better in arias as Quel nome se ascolto from Hasse’s Il Ciro riconosciuto, Ti pentirai, crudel from Handel’s Tolomeo and Parmi che giunta in porto from Radamisto. They are more suitable to Genaux’s temperament and are noteworthy for her agility. It is in these pieces that Genaux characterize the role with a feeling that is really worth to listen to.

Cappella Gabetta

In these circumstances, the Cappella Gabetta deserves an even warmer praise that it would have in any case. The ensemble, led by Andrés Gabetta, offers an exquisite, intense and lively performance in the accompaniment of the arias and the three Overtures (from Hasse’s Il Ciro riconosciuto, Didone abbandonata and Zenobia) that from time to time divide the arias are sometimes even more enjoyable than the arias themselves.