Coloratura singing, as a wise observer remarked, is a bit like dancing on pointe: bizarre and unnatural, but powerfully compelling when done well. Vivica Genaux does it very well indeed.
The American mezzo-soprano made an all-too-rare return to the Bay Area on Friday night, appearing in Herbst Theatre with Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra with a collection of Baroque opera arias. Then she proceeded to give a virtuoso display of precision vocal fireworks.
Rapid-fire runs, repeated notes, pitch-perfect leaps between registers, elaborate ornamentations of melodic lines that were already fairly ornate to begin with – these are Genaux’s stock-in-trade. With McGegan and the orchestra providing stylish accompaniment, Genaux made a good case for Baroque singing as a thrilling high-wire act.