• Second Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Vivica Genaux

    We had the pleasure of interviewing Alaskan-born mezzo-soprano Ms. Vivica Genaux (one of our favorite singers and a major star in the European Baroque circuits), through a video call to her house in Italy in 2012, and now we have enjoyed even more an opportunity to interview her again, this time in person in Charleston, SC, during the Spoleto USA Festival 2015 last summer, when she performed the title role in Cavalli's opera Veremonda. All fans of Baroque opera will be delighted with Ms. Genaux's deep knowledge of the art form and her descriptions of the ins and outs of performing and recording the genre, in a "must read" interview. Enjoy!

    For more details about the singer's career, read the introduction to our first interview with her, by clicking [here]. We will not be repeating this information in the current article.

    Photo credit: Virgin Classics/Harry Heleotis

    Many updates, though, have happened ever since our last interview. We do address some of them in our questions and answers, but for more details, readers might want to consult the singer's website at www.vivicagenaux.com

    One interesting update is an upcoming book that extensively features Vivica, coming soon in 2016:


    Vivica and the Veremonda resurrection
    View the forgotten world of Pier Francesco Cavalli's Veremonda, l'amazzone di Aragona from an insider's perspective in the evocative book The Veremonda Resurrection, in which photographs by Michel Juvet and text by Allison Zurfluh document the opera's return to the stage at the 2015 Spoleto Festival USA with Vivica in the title role.

    For more information, visit The Veremonda Resurrection's website.


    Also, Vivica's discography has evolved even more, with several new releases. Consult it by clicking [here].


    Without further ado, let's treat our readers to Vivica's insightful answers.

    The Second and Exclusive Opera Lively Interview with Vivica Genaux

    This is our interview #175, published out of order due to transcription delays (we are at #195 now). Copyright Opera Lively. Reproduction of excerpts is authorized for all purposes as long as the source is quoted and a link to the full piece is provided. Reproduction of the entire interview requires authorization - use the Contact Us form. Photos are from Julia Lynn and authorized by the Spoleto Festival (Opera Lively was one of the accredited journalistic operations covering the festival) or otherwise are fair promotional use (we do not know the names of all the photographers; will be happy to include if we are told who they are).


    Luiz Gazzola for Opera Lively - Vivica, your character Veremonda has been called volatile and complex. After seeing the opera I’m not sure if I agree. It seems more like light comedy than anything. But let’s see what you make of her. Maybe there is more depth to this character than the naked eye can see, in terms of psychological arc.

    Vivica Genaux - What comes across is what counts, no? So, what you see is what it is. It depends also on the audience and the night. Yesterday we had a very lively audience that was laughing at a lot of the supertitles and at the physical comedy on stage. So, you play to what the audience is reacting to, sometimes also. Part of what you see as the comic aspect of it is kind of an Italiana in Algeri side, where she manipulates people as she needs to, to get where she wants with them or to get what she wants from them. For me as a character, anyway, there is a sense of danger when Delio starts flipping out and getting too physical with her. She is used to having everybody do what she wants, and she is used to being physical and touching people when she wants to touch them, but not used to having them lose control with her. That said, when she figures out the way to put them back in her control, she loosens up a bit because she realizes, “OK, he had a moment of danger, but I know again how to put him under my thumb.”

    In terms of being volatile and complex, the thing is that you don’t get a chance to see her very much as the queen. There are only three scenes with her as the queen, and I think it is hard in those scenes to show how pent-up she is, how she is trying to embody what she believes will satisfy her king. She is playing the role as a queen, but she is so much happier when she is back in the armor and has actual physical control over her world! She has the option of attacking. Her attacking as the queen is more verbal than it is physical, and I feel that she really wants to get handsy with people and have the sword. She becomes viperous in her words because she is frustrated being in this court, in this gilded cage, and trying to play that role, but it is not satisfying to her.

    OL – So you mean, when she is a queen in those scenes she is the figurehead queen looking pretty, while she is more of an action person, and doesn’t appreciate the fact that her husband is lost in Astronomy.

    Vivica as Veremonda, Spoleto USA - Photo Julia Lynn

    VG – Her husband is the one person that she cannot attract attention from. She is doing everything that she can to attract his attention but it just doesn’t work. She is very happy at the end when Roldano says that the king has finally moved. He’s done something because he is jealous of her, having heard of her and Delio being out together. So that for her is, “Hallelujah, finally he is alive!”

    Yes, the thing that I hate when the king does it is when he says, [Vivica mimics the voice one uses when talking to a child] “Oh you talk about battle but you are just a woman and you should be careful; it’s not everything that you think,” and I say, [Vivica pounds on the table] “I know what I’m talking about, and you have to move! You have to react!” It just frustrates the heck out of me to be treated like an object and a fragile person.

    OL – In this run, were there nights when you took it more seriously with less physical comedy, or was the emphasis on comedy just the way the director wanted it from the beginning?

    VG – Tuesday, the audience didn’t laugh as much, so maybe it was a little bit more serious. In terms of the scenes when there is seriousness in my part, it’s when I’m working with Delio and he is getting physically dangerous to me, in that almost rape scene. You get the comedy then in the second act when Zelemina and Zaida are watching us, especially towards the second half of that scene because she realizes that it’s a play for them. So we do it in a Commedia dell’Arte fashion – [Vivica says in a melodramatic voice] “Ah, save me, save me!” But for me the first scenes are quite serious because I’m just frustrated. The thing that undermines that a little bit for me – but it’s cute; it’s really fun – is the fact that my Amazons are just court ladies who have been put into what they think are these high fashion outfits, but I’m really pushing for them to be effective and strong. And they do at the end, when they come towards Zelemina. They have that force and that preparation, and you see that they did conquer Gibilterra [Gibraltar]. But on the other hand I like to look at the audience; if they laugh. On Tuesday, they didn’t laugh when the Amazons came in, so I didn’t do that look to the audience. If they do laugh, I give them that look of “what were they thinking?” [laughs]

    The Amazons she is describing - Photo Julia Lynn

    OL – It is very interesting that you adapt your acting to the audience!

    VG – Always, always, in any performance you do, especially in anything that has a comic side, like Il barbiere di Siviglia. That’s the thing that is tricky, when working in Italian in the United States. The first time we heard the audience with the supertitles was our opening night. We had audiences in our general rehearsals but there were no supertitles. So they were sitting there and they were reacting to a nice 1600s proper opera. Opening night was really different because we had the reactions to the supertitles. That always takes some balancing work in terms of your timing because the laughing is not necessarily when you say something funny but rather when the supertitles say something funny. Their visual reaction to something that is taking place on stage is always different.

    OL – Was any updating done to the supertitles to make them more accessible to a 21st century audience dealing with 17th century jokes?

    VG – I haven’t seen the supertitles, so I can’t speak to that. I know that Stefano [Vizioli, stage director] and Aaron [Carpenè, conductor and musicologist] worked on those together. I was concerned about it. When I read the script I was saying, “That’s a pretty strong double-entendre, especially for a Bible-belt city!” [laughs] I don’t think that they pulled any punches. I think that they pretty much told it as it was. It’s very raunchy.

    OL – What about the scholarship about this opera, when it was originally produced? Was it also more on the comedic side? Because the prologue does talk about faith, and humankind.

    VG – Yes, but these pieces were there for people to have a good time. You cannot look at the text and think “Oh, this is a sedentary, very serious piece.” And the text in Italian is so direct! It’s not very double-entendre, it is entendre! [laughs]

    OL – On the other hand, just like Così fan Tutte, it does take on gender equality quite strongly, which is surprising for a 17th century piece, no? You make comedy, but you also have some social message going on, there.

    VG – I think it is less surprising for a 17th century piece than it is for 19th century piece. It’s in the 19th century that we get all tight and have to be all politically correct, and that’s what we are used to today, seeing all the fainting women in bel canto, and we talk about how feminist L’Italiana in Algeri is, how surprisingly strong is the character Isabella. Look at all the characters in the 1700s and the 1600s, how strong they are, and how fearless, physical, and visceral they are. This is very much in keeping with the 1700s and 1600s for me. It’s in the 1800s that you start to get all these vapid, helpless women.

    OL – Ah, interesting. See? I knew you had more to say about your character than I thought!

    VG – Mozart is different also, because you look at who he is writing for – classes – and it was also quite daring of him to show the humor between the class levels, and the servants making fun of who was in charge. That was pretty abrasive back then, also. This time period, it is much more like Chaucer, with blood and guts and humor – ribaldry humor. Very direct and very “hahaha,” and you can imagine the audience with big glasses of beer, just laughing and laughing. And there are always these moments of “ooh, that’s an uncomfortable situation.”

    OL - After it premiered in the 17th century, it is only now in this production that the opera is having its first revival, 350 years later. It disappeared, although it is a pretty good piece. What happens to these good operas that go away like this and are then rediscovered? What in Veremonda is appealing to contemporary audiences?

    VG – In terms of why it disappeared, it’s like going anywhere in Italy and asking why is the entirety of their cultural heritage not 100% reconstructed and saved. There is too much of it. There is an indescribable amount of material to take care of, to rediscover…

    This was contemporary art at the time, something that you listened to a few times, and then you went on to something else. They didn’t have recordings, so they went to live theater and wouldn’t see a piece just one time: they would go maybe five, six, eight times. That goes up to Rossini’s time, when you are talking about Giuditta Pasta who was singing La Cenerentola in Trieste—she was engaged for five shows: she stayed for 118. And you are not talking about an audience that is coming from Hong Kong. It’s that audience from Trieste, and maybe from Prague and Vienna coming also, but you are talking about people going to see the same opera multiple, multiple times. So this was the same thing with this – you would go and see the piece several times, but then you would want to see something different, and the piece would get put away and not taken care of, because it was meant for that occasion. Maybe it was exhumed for another festival or carnival but then, that was it.

    It’s the same thing when I went to Naples for the first time and I said, “it’s such a shame that they don’t take care of all of this architecture and all of this art and all of these manuscripts!” And then I started to get an idea, that just in Naples how much material there is, and how much money it costs to take care of all of these things, and how much dedication it takes to research and to have an interest, and then to justify that interest. Why was Cavalli better than the 18 million [laughs] composers who were working at that time? Then you have to find the funding to do the new edition so that people have the parts, find the singers who are interested and competent in reproducing that, find a festival like the Spoleto USA that is interested in producing a piece like that for an audience that doesn’t know who Cavalli is, who doesn’t understand Italian necessarily… It’s a very difficult process every single time.

    We did with Fabio Biondi a beautiful opera – Adriano in Siria with music by Veracini – we wanted to do it in London because it was Farinelli’s last appearance as a professional in a public stage, and it was done in London, but in London they said, “I’m sorry, but with a composer like Veracini, we are not sure we can get an audience for it.” And with the arts being where they are, even though ticket sales count for so little of the actual production costs, they need to get the tickets sold. So if you are selling a composer who is not known… unlike The Four Seasons of Vivaldi. It’s like McDonald’s. People want to go to the opera or to a concert and know what they are going to hear. It’s very difficult to have an educated audience that has built a trust with the production team, that they say, “I don’t know this piece but I trust the production team of this festival, of this concert series, of this opera company – if they are proposing it, then it is something that I should go and see.” It’s very difficult to do that, so there are all kinds of barriers towards bringing these pieces back.

    OL - Please tell us about the music in Veremonda. It’s been described as fresh and bold, with exotic elements especially for Zelemina, and with rapid changes in tone and style due to the mix of comedic and tragic elements.

    VG – I think some of the dramatic changes are due to the fact that we had to get the piece down to three hours, including the pause in the middle. So there are a lot of cuts.

    OL – How long was it, originally?

    VG – I don’t know, but it was much longer. There was a lot of recitative that was cut. I talk about the Hasse operas, they are six hours long. Veremonda was probably in the order of four hours of music, so you always have to do some cuts. Some of the quick juxtapositions can be in cuts or in transposition.

    This is my first experience with Cavalli. I had only sung Monteverdi before, from the 1600s, and a few Frescobaldi songs. I’ve never really explored the 1600s that much. The Monteverdi that I did was with Ivor Bolton in Munich. I did Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. I did Penelope. It’s very differently structured, musically, than Cavalli. Cavalli is a little bit more elegant, I would say; a little bit simpler. Monteverdi gets more visceral for me. It gets more complex harmonically, and also with the instruments one tends to use with Monteverdi. They bring all those different sounds that we are not used to hearing nowadays. Cavalli has a much more standard orchestra sound. Of course the winds are typical to the 1600s with that kind of sound that they have, and also the percussion is different from what you would hear in the 1700s.

    But that said, structurally I found it really satisfying in quite simple ways, but in its simplicity it offers a lot of opportunities for flexibility and ornamentation. The ornamentation that I do is really, really minimal, because I need to do more 1600s music to understand more the ornamentation. I still don’t have that in my ear. I did last year the Purcell Dido and Aeneas, and I worked with Vincent Dumestre on that: he was brilliant, but it takes me a longer time to get that language, and also Purcell has a very different musical language than the Italian composers, so it takes me a longer time to get that in my ear and in my body. I would like to do some more. I have more opportunities to do some Cavalli, some Frescobaldi, and some other 1600s composers that I’m not familiar with yet, to learn that musical language. Francesca Mazzulli, she does this style of music more often, so I’ve been listening to her a lot, in the way that she puts in the little twiddles and things like that. I’m trying to emulate that a little bit more.

    OL - I was about to ask you about the vocal challenges in this repertoire. Does the vocal writing suit well your voice? For such an outstanding Baroque singer like you, I guess that there aren’t too many vocal challenges left.

    VG - It’s fine. It’s low. It only goes up to a G. It’s not that high. The difference in this style from any other style is of course because it is basically a lot of recitative with acting, not singing. That, I love. I love recitative.

    OL - Nice. I was talking to someone one of these days who said “I hate recitative.”

    VG – No, you can’t hate recitative and do this. You can’t. And I think it is so silly, because recitative is the only place where anything happens, and that’s your opportunity to explore the character, to flesh out the character. The aria is just an existence in a moment, and it has some emotional dynamic to it, but not very much. It’s very static, especially in 1600s, 1700s, and early and mid-1800s music. In the last third of the 1800s and beyond, you get through-composed music, you have long lines, and you are actually giving information with the long lines – like Rodolfo’s and Mimi’s arias in Bohème where they explain who they are, what they do, and what they would like from the world – that all would have been handled by recitatives before. But recitative I love because other people’s recitatives are where you find what they think about you, so even if you are not on stage you read what other people say about you in their scenes, and it is in the recitative, where they say, “oh she is so evil, so mean,” or, “she is so weak,” because they talk about the things they see in your character, so that’s very important, and then in your recitative you have all the kinetic energy.

    OL – Wow, that’s a very interesting aspect. Why do you think the opera was initially titled after another character, Delio, and then it came to name your character in the title? What do you make of it, in terms of which one is the driving force?

    VG – Delio is the driving force. He is the only one who… [hesitates] Delio and Veremonda are kind of on equal level, I have to say, actually. Delio is the one who gets in the most trouble. You see his ambition and his drive and his weaknesses the most. He is more like a Cherubino kind of character; or a Sesto in La Clemenza di Tito. He is the typical castrato role where he is a young guy: he is just trying to move into manhood, basically. He is trying to assert himself in the world and find out who he really is with respect to the other powers that be in his world. Veremonda really doesn’t change that much in the course of the opera. She knows who she is, she is frustrated in the beginning, she liberates herself, and then she does achieve the respect and attention of her husband in the end. But you can kind of see her going on, then, in her story, kind of operating the same way – going back into her corset, still having fun with Delio even though he is with Zelemina, still having fun also with Vespina, doing her own thing and probably losing the attention of her husband again because he will again also go back into his own world.

    Delio and Veremonda - Photo Julia Lynn - Delio is Raffaele Pe

    It’s more of an experience, I think, the opera for Delio because he is just coming out of his shell: he is just experimenting with what he thinks is his own power, and then he gets a slap on the wrist from his father, a slap on the wrist from Veremonda, so he will have to try again and see where he can get, now that his father is older, and see if he can assert himself in the position that his father once had.

    So, in the Baroque operas like the Hasse operas, in Solimano, it is called Solimano, but it is really Selimo who is the primary character. Very often these operas have the title of one person but it is another character who is the most important one. I think typically the title would have been given to the person who holds the most power in the opera, so Agripina, Alcina, but not necessarily the character who is the principal character, who is the one who goes through the most change and evolution in the story.

    OL – But it was actually named Il Delio, at first, right? So what do you say about the change? Why did Cavalli experience the need to change the title? Was that a marketing tool? Was that important at the time?

    VG – I have no idea. You have to ask Aaron. Maybe Aaron knows.

    OL – Delio doesn’t strike me as having the intention of forwarding the political aspect, and betraying the Moors and so forth. He is kind of pushed into it. At first he just wants to have fun with Zelemina, no? Do you think, when he justifies what he had been doing, saying that he had an eye on bringing down the Moors, is he just being opportunistic, or was it really his first intention?

    VG – That’s completely left to the interpretation of the audience. It’s something that can change also in our minds, night to night. I don’t think we have a set goal in that. The set goal is to demonstrate how amorphous these characters are. They are all very opportunistic. And there is also in my character – and I think in Delio, too – physical attraction. But it all depends on what you want, politically, and what you want, physically, and how far you are willing to go for one and sacrifice the other. For me, the political aspect is always primary. I will go to where I can safely go physically, but the political aspect will always cap that.

    Delio and Zelemina (Francesca Mazzulli) - photo Julia Lynn

    For Delio, sometimes he gets more physical than he can handle, just because of hormones and things like that. He doesn’t have his eyes on the prize, politically, so much, because he is just inexperienced. I’m much more experienced, then I know how to get where I want to go, and the importance of what I need to acquire from people. The king, he has more clout, he has more political powers, so he can afford to be more vague, and then when he says something, he wants it to stick, though. So everybody has different tools to work with.

    OL – Yes. At some point it seems like your character wouldn’t shy away from going all the way in sexual manipulation. It looks like she has done it.

    VG – Oh, yes, yes. Absolutely, yes. Totally. It just depends on whether I make the decision – where that is, and how it’s done. The thing that is dangerous with Delio is that I lose control of how and where this will happen. As long as I’m in control and I say I’ll do it, then whatever I want to do is open for me, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of my political standing.

    OL - What would you say are the strengths of Vizioli’s production?

    VG – The last time I worked with Stefano was in 2001. We did Il Barbiere di Siviglia together in Baltimore. He is such an actor! I always learn a lot of stage craft from him, whenever I watch him working with other singers. And also his interpretation of the text is often very different from what I get from a first reading, and I enjoy that very much, because I am very limited in my imagination, my fantasy, because I basically read something and get a very bland, direct interpretation of what the text is. He brings more to that. He suggested that I looked at some films of Bette Davis when she was playing Elizabeth, the queen, just to see some of the dynamic that she brought into that character, which would be something that I, having read the score, would never have thought of. And yet, having watched the movie, then I can see where his mind was going with that. So, I really, really enjoy working with him.

    I love how he works with young singers also, because having been a young singer when I worked with him the first time, there are so few stage directors who have that generosity and that level of communication! As a singer you don’t get that much stage instruction. You get a lot of vocal instruction. But for a production like this you need acting skills. You need stage skills. You need to know how to move on stage, how to express the words, how to manipulate both the music and the text, and we don’t get that, as singers. So the opportunity to work with someone like Stefano at any level is very, very valuable for all of us.

    OL – Talking about the cast, you mentioned young singers. The young lady who sings Vespina, she is outstanding. I had never heard her before.

    Céline Ricci as Vespina, with Giacutte (Jason Budd) - Photo Julia Lynn

    VG – Céline [Ricci], yes.

    OL – I thought the whole cast was outstanding. I was thinking about the productions in Paris by Les Arts Florissants, where they do Baroque in very appealing ways, visually, acting-wise, and musically, with excellent singers and William Christie. And I was thinking, “wow, I’m here in South Carolina and I am seeing something with the same level of quality.” Isn’t it?

    VG – Yes, absolutely.

    OL – You are such an expert in early music, and the topic of HIP orchestras was a big one in our first interview. While we don’t have as many HIP ensembles in the United States as compared to Europe, we do have some. What can you tell us about the New York Baroque Incorporated? How are they doing?

    VG – They did very, very well. I’m looking forward to doing another project together. I’m so excited that here in the States now we are getting the opportunity of working with original early music instruments rather than trying to do this kind of music with a modern orchestra! That, for me, opens up a lot of possibilities. I’m really excited about the potential of what we can do together here in the States, because it’s always been the problem of carting over an orchestra from Europe to do this kind of work, before. Economically it is really, really difficult. I worked with a lot of American instrumentalists in Europe, but just the possibilities of work here in the United States have been so limited! So that’s really exciting for me, to hear the level of quality that they are bringing to the table now. Also I know that Philippe Jaroussky did concerts a couple of years ago with Apollo’s Fire.

    OL – Apollo’s Fire, yes.

    VG – So, it’s beginning. The other thing that for me has been difficult here in the States is that if there’s been the possibility of working with early instruments, it’s been more in the English style, which is much more ascetic, not as emotionally engaged, much more proper, and taking out much more of the vibrato. I’m much more of the René Jacobs school where you get involved with your guts, your whole emotion, your whole body as much as possible in what you are singing. So, I see that potential now with this group, and it is really exciting.

    OL – Hopefully this will bring you more often to this side of the pond.

    VG – I would hope so. We talked about some possibilities and I will try to explore that, now that I know that there is an infrastructure that I can count on. Yeah, definitely.

    OL – The Italian painter and sculptor Ugo Nespolo did the set design. I saw a booklet of his work. It is so beautiful!

    VG – Yes.

    Photo Julia Lynn - from left to right, Zelemina, Delio, and Veremonda

    OL – One of the critics said that it was cartoonish and that the festival did it to save money. I said, “What? This is a major artist!”

    VG – Oh…

    OL – So what do you say of the visual appeal of the production?

    VG – Of course I don’t get to see very much of it from on stage, but my husband took a lot of photos during the rehearsals, and it is such a relief to be in a production with light and color! Usually in order to be nouveau and to do something really theatrical, they put you in pitch black and sideways, and you are wandering on the stage trying to find something that will illuminate your face, and it is all drab and dark and depressing, so it was so nice to have the colors to work with! It really revivified this opera. There is something in the characters of a Commedia dell’Arte aspect. The acting is a result of the text, of course, and the text like I said is quite broad, so it is really nice to have this backdrop of really strong color and strong lines that support the broadness of the characters and the broadness of the text.

    Photo Julia Lynn - one of the comic scenes, Zelemina taking a bath; Zaida (Michael Maniaci) to her left

    OL – And it starts dark in the prologue, and then the colors explode.

    VG – Exactly. The darkness at the beginning, Stefano was saying, was trying to invoke the atmosphere of the Venetian Carnival. It was written for the Carnevale in Venice, so the fog in Venice… and then this world of color explodes, and the Carnival in Venice is also colorful, and then you go back into the mist again; it’s like that movie with Gene Kelly and the little town that appears out of the mist every hundred years.

    OL - Opera Lively interviewed you in July of 2012. Let’s talk about some exciting developments that happened in your career since then. In December 2014 you had your debut in Shanghai in the title role of Giulio Cesare. Yesterday I interviewed two Chinese artists – the composer and the soprano for Paradise Interrupted, and I asked them about opera in China. Let’s hear your Western perspective on the operatic environment there.

    VG – I don’t really have an idea. We were there for that project, for five days. I was involved with the rehearsals and didn’t get to see any trace of opera. I know from David Stern that they are very new to Baroque opera. He had been invited by them to initiate a Baroque festival and more concerts. I know that Philippe has just been there, or was about to go. Joyce DiDonato had given a concert. So they were bringing more European and American artists over. I don’t know if Joyce was doing Baroque or bel canto, but Philippe of course would probably be doing Baroque, I would imagine.

    So, there is interest. I was talking with some kids there who had come to the concert and they said, “yes, we’ve tried to organize a trip every once in a while to go to Paris to see opera; we’ll go for a week.” So right now it seems like it is still developing. It is in the initial stages, but there are people who are trying to bring the artists to Shanghai. And it’s amazing, you never think that it is that far away. It’s a thirteen-hour trip from Paris, direct flight.

    OL – How was the reception to Giulio Cesare?

    VG – Wonderful. Really wonderful. We did it semi-staged, and a very cut version, because they were afraid the audience wouldn’t be able to sit through the full version of it, so arias were sometimes only A-B, sometimes there was no da capo, sometimes it was just A, some of the duets were cut, which for me is like… “Ahhh….” It’s one thing to cut recitative...

    OL – Yes, because in the da capo, the second time you give different emotions.

    VG – Yeah, exactly. And so, you get attached to that format and to the possibility of giving expression, so it feels like being amputated, a bit. It’s a little tough, but you try to respect what the producer is asking of you for their audience, and hopefully you will get a chance to do something a bit more… round. Yes, Fabio Luisi was there working with the orchestra; he was doing Beethoven symphonies, so the level of people that they have coming through there is obviously top-notch. So, it’s special to be a part of that, and it was the first Giulio Cesare that has been done there.

    OL - You had a CD and a tour called Rival Queens. It sounds like a lot of fun. Tell us more about it.

    VG – That was really fun. It was a project with Simone Kermes. I have worked with her a couple of times before that. We had done Emma di Resburgo of Meyerbeer, which was a piece that hadn’t been performed since 1824; that’s coming out on CD very shortly [Editor’s note – by now, it’s been already released]. We had done an AIDS Gala in Berlin together, and I’ve always had a really great time working with her.

    She is an amazing singer. She is spontaneous on stage, which I admire so much. I’ve always wanted to develop that more, the improvisation on stage and being ready for anything. She is all about audience participation, which is something that I don’t do – I always create my own world and people come in to that, I hope, but I don’t go out. She goes out to the audience. So I think part of the rivalries aspect was also that difference in energy. It was really interesting to play with that.

    So, she is phenomenal. We did a lot of concerts together last year, and we just did our final one in March. So that was really a neat project, and was something that we were willing to do together, and we hope to do some more concerts together with a different repertoire. It was a huge success and a lot of fun.

    OL - How is your V/Vox group doing?

    VG – We are doing some more concerts in the fall. It’s changing around a little bit. It is a little bit difficult. [sighs] When you put together a group, of course you have to find the right dynamic, especially when you are dealing with just six or seven instruments. Everybody has their own role. It’s a much different aspect than being in an orchestra with eighteen, twenty people. And the problem is, you only get to come together for rehearsals when you have a gig, when you have a concert, but you don’t get concerts unless they know the ensemble, so… [laughs].

    But we have some concerts in the fall in Spain that we are working towards. It’s really fun. I have a couple of projects in mind to do with them, and it is just a matter of… I’m not good at the organizational thing. I need to have one more person on my team with whom we’ll talk about the project, and who will realize the project, because I’m not good at that. I have an idea, but I don’t know how to get it produced, so I need one more link in my chain.

    OL – If I read expressions well, I thought you looked a little frustrated when you talked about it.

    VG – Because I don’t know how to get where I want to go. I have about four projects that I’m working on that I have prepared basically on my end but I don’t know how to get them into production. I’m missing a link in my organizational chain of people.

    OL – I see. You had your debut in a role I love, Dido. It’s sort of my favorite story. I go after all operatic tellings of the Trojans’ story. I actually wrote a book about it. Please tell us about the psychology of this outstanding character and how you relate to her.

    VG – I find Dido one of the most frustrating roles I’ve ever sung because there was no arc. It was tableau, tableau, tableau, and it was very, very difficult to find any kind of continuity between the tableaux, and even if you created in your own mind the continuity, you knew what happened, it was frustrating because you had no time to display that, so you just really had to do… [sighs] you know when you do just a little scene in a box, when people put together a scene, a box, kind of like in a nativity scene, a presepio, a diorama… It’s like a sequence of dioramas. And so it was my first experience with Purcell; vocally there is really nothing to do; it’s acting, again, but there is no continuity in the acting; it’s… You see Dido, then you see her changed, but there is no evolution. It’s just done, done, done [laughs].

    OL – But I think it is what was preserved, because this opera was originally longer. And in other treatments of the story we do get to know Dido’s arc, like in Les Troyens with Didon.

    VG – Yes, we have what survived from the piece. There were probably more spoken text and other things going on; definitely; but I found it very, very frustrating.

    OL – OK. I’m seeing in your future a somewhat surprising development, a Zarzuela in 2016, La Guerra de Los Gigantes. Please tell me more about it. Is this a significant departure from your Baroque and bel canto repertoire?

    VG – No, it’s a 1600s piece as well. In my role there isn’t so much spoken dialogue. It’s basically just 1600s Spanish music which I have never done before, so I’m looking forward to adding that to my repertoire. The role looks interesting, also. I’ve not begun my studies and my research; I’ve just accepted it last month, so…

    But I love Spain, and it is an opportunity for me to be in Spain a little bit more. I just did a recital there a couple of weeks ago at the Teatro de la Zarzuela. I love being in Spain. It’s a great audience, a beautiful theater with a great history, also: the support for the artists in Spain is just amazing. The people who work in the theater are so generous and so helpful: you always feel like you are really working with a team, so it’s really why I wanted it, aside from the musicological interest of doing a piece like that, which I’ve never done. It’s also the people and the opportunity to learn more Spanish. I’m doing Spanish lessons while I’m there.

    OL - What else is upcoming?

    VG – I’m doing Cenerentola with Fabio Biondi in Bremen in September 2015, and I love working with Fabio. [Editor's note - she will soon also do I Capuleti ed i Montecchi with Biondi]. He has done a lot of research in terms of finding manuscripts and things. I’ve done critical editions, and I’ve talked with Philip Gossett about it, but it’s really interesting for me, people who have this kind of preparation in the 1700s, looking into 1800s repertoire, because they have a very different perspective. Many of the people that you work with in the Rossini and bel canto repertoire are coming back from Verdi and Puccini, and they are looking back into it. I really love working with Rossini looking beyond Haydn, beyond Mozart, beyond Piccinni.

    OL – When they were recreating that piece, they were thinking about it.

    VG – Exactly: they knew what was going to happen afterwards. It gives you a lot more liberty in terms of the ornamentation. A lot of the original ornamentation still exists from the Cenerentola, today, tomorrow, and it is still way out there. There are conductors of bel canto who are the best conductors of bel canto today who will not let you do the ornamentation that is documented, that we have documented, because it is modulating all over the place. It is completely different from what we are used to hearing, from 1950s recordings, for example. So working with someone like Fabio is much more freeing, and you have just a lot of different opportunities than you normally do in that repertoire.

    OL - What else is new in your life since we last talked? Any personal landmarks of interest?

    VG – I’m happier now than I’ve ever been, as an artist and as a person, because I feel like I’m singing for myself, and I’m doing the projects that I want to do, and I know why I am doing them, so even if there are frustrations, you know, any project, you wish you could do better. You feel that either you are missing something or the world that you are working in is missing something. There is always something that feels a little bit disjunct, huh? But it doesn’t bother me anymore.

    I feel that I can step into that world and make what I want happen. I know why I’m doing things the way I’m doing them, rather than before when I was trying to please other people. I’m not doing that as much anymore, if at all, and I love that. I think that’s something that I’ve learned: it’s a result of experience, but it’s also the people that I’ve been working with recently.

    Simone has been a great influence on me, in freeing myself from a lot of my self-imposed limitations. Why do I limit myself? Why does one as a classical artist limits oneself in certain ways? Is it to please other people? Is it because we feel that it enhances what we give to the audience? It is really nice to have that question and be able to answer it in different ways, in different occasions. Yes.

    OL – Thank you so much, Vivica. You are so nice!

    VG – Thank you!


    Let's listen to this exceptional singer - this clip is lots of fun, and depicts what she was talking about, her Rival Queens tour with Simone Kermes, singing a Hasse duet, "Se mai più saro geloso":


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