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Baroque Gender Stories

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Larry ZazzoORCiD


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In this survey of late Baroque opera arias, many of which are here recorded for the first time, countertenor Lawrence Zazzo, mezzo soprano Vivica Genaux, and conductor of Lautten Compagney Berlin Wolfgang Katschner have curated and edited a programme that explores themes of gender ambiguity and disguise. Three libretti by Pietro Metastasio (Siroe, Semiramide risconosciuta, Achille in Sciro) receive particular attention, as they all feature characters concealing their gender identities. Zazzo and Genaux, both specialists in singing Baroque operatic roles written for castrati (often singing female roles in Roman opera) or female contraltos/mezzos (singing 'en travestie'), here perform arias and duets by Handel, Vivaldi, Galuppi, Porpora, Geminiani, and Traetta with the aim of intentionally disregarding or subverting the original male/female designations, creating further opportunities for confusion and play in a genre which already features considerable sexual ambiguity. The CD is accompanied by a Q&A for Zazzo and Genaux, in which they discuss the creative process and experience of gender ambiguity both on this CD and onstage throughout their operatic careers. The music on the CD will form the basis for a series of public concerts in Germany, Switzerland, and France throughout 2019 and 2020.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Zazzo L, Genaux V, Katschner W

Publication type: Digital or Visual Media

Publication status: Published

Year: 2019

Publisher: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi

Performers(s): Lawrence Zazzo, Vivica Genaux, Wolfgang Katscher, Lautten Compagney Berlin

Notes: In a review of the inaugural concert of this programme on, Sandra Bowdler observes that "Zazzo was equally infectious, looking a little like Handel himself, in a red velvet jacket and cool red shoes. His voice features an unforced golden tone as well as effortless coloratura ... The first vocal offering was a duet from Lampugnani’s version of Semiramide riconosciuta, in which the voices were well matched, with lots of volume and everything fully supported and accompanied by horns. The two voices have very different timbres, with Genaux sometimes sounding darker and sometimes lighter than Zazzo; she is reminiscent of Marilyn Horne in having a unique sound, but in a different way. This was followed by Zazzo’s first solo, another aria from Lampugnani's work, highly dramatic and sung furioso but still with refulgent tone. While he sang, Genaux listened intently, reflecting his mood, and this kind of interpersonal character portrayal continued throughout.