What’s “florid” on the Italian baroque like? Like white on rice as Vivica Genaux demonstrated in “Vivaldi Pyrotechnics” in the Harriman-Jewell Series at the Folly Theater Friday night.
Genaux, born in Alaska and living in Italy, joined tremendous vocal technique and a three-octave mezzo-soprano voice to the refined Baroque aesthetic of violinist Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante, an original instrument baroque string group Biondi founded in 1990.
Friday night was a nice blend of Europa Galante's refinement and Genaux's strong theatrical sense, both essential to the music.
Ironically, the musical theatrics were strengthened by Genaux's admirable self-discipline on stage.
Genaux was very poised, very focused. She just stood there and sang seven arias beautifully, and at least two of them sounded fiendishly difficult. She led all the drama away from herself and back to Vivaldi's music, where he put it.
Europa Galante did something similar here and there, in making sure everyone was tuned up dead on the money (to 415A, this being Baroque music). It really was pleasing to see and hear Genaux and Biondi take such a thoroughly professional approach to the task at hand.
Drama and refinement are common bedmates in Vivaldi's music, and were comfortable together in his being.
As example: Vivaldi was a Catholic priest, but he once toured Europe with both his mistresses at the same time - producing silence from the Church and a welcome mat from music-loving courts in several countries.
The "red priest" - whether this meant Vivaldi's hair, his complexion, his clothes or his attitude is now unknown - wrote several forgotten operas whose best parts live on, thanks to specialists like Genaux, Biondi and their colleagues.
Genaux's most impressive moments came in "Agitata da due venti" (1735) and especially in the 1732 showpiece "Alma oppressa," which got a rousing ovation at the end of the first half.
Europa Galante played four purely instrumental works, of which the two-violin concerto opening the second half was startling in its sweetness and originality.
The Folly was made for groups of about 12-15 musicians singing and playing acoustic instruments, and Genaux's voice was powerful enough to be easily heard in the back row of the house.