I was quite excited to hear this CD when I saw it. I have listened to a number of "Farinelli Arias" disks, and to tell the truth really saw no merit in the music at all, at least how it was performed. However, I have studied this music for decades, and having many fine transcriptions of Farinelli's embellishments, I have always wondered what these arias would sound like when sung well. It was a revelation.
I would suggest that everyone who listens to this CD begin by reading the very long, but very informative, explanations of the Castrato voice, and of Farinelli himself. There is a wealth of information, including how voices were trained, and what voices were used to trade off when a castrato soprano was not available. COUNTERTENORS were NEVER used. They existed, but they simply didn't have the sound that compared. The usual choice for composers was a FEMALE CONTRALTO with a good upper range. This upper range was not like we think of high notes today. In fact, no singer until the end of the 1880's had high notes like we are used to today. Their upper notes were very penetrating, but not super loud. The strength of the voice was its chest and lower notes. Most Castrati sang well, even to very strong powerful notes over an octave below middle C, and were still called "sopranos."
Looking at the scores of these pieces, you will not find one high note written there, and those that do venture above the staff are very quickly sung. However, most all of the pieces venture below the staff, and often start a phrase as low as the A below middle C. If one looks at Farinelli's own embellishments, one hardly ever sees him venturing above a high A and then very quickly. In his youth he may have had a High F but he never would have used it the way we expect singers like Joan Sutherland to sing it.
So, if we can just get over a few things we have been conditioned to think (which are completely wrong) that the countertenor voice has any resemblance to the Castrato (which it doesn't; composers of the period have proven through their choices a contralto or dark mezzo represented far more accurately the castrato voice), that voices sang with no vibrato (they did, and it gave warmth to the music, that is why eventually string players learned to use a vibrato, we have used instrumental technique, which were decades behind vocal technique, to decide how vocalist sang, organs as early as 11 hundred were built with a "la Voce" stop, which actually played two notes back and forth to immitate a vibrato, so obviously the voice did vibrate), and that the castrato has some super human capacity for volume (their breathing and focus training was unique to them, and often not taught to other singers of their day; women worse corsets and so their breathing was shallow, but what they were trained to do is commonly done today for most singers, so their volume would have compared to our more modern sound, only their high notes would not have been anywhere as loud as we are used to hearing).
If we are willing to learn from facts, then we will be ready to listen to this performance. What we hear is a wonderful singer doing a wonderful job with music that is very difficult to sing. It would have been nicer if her voice was more powerful in the lower reaches, for much of the music is quite low. Most of her embellishments are authentic to the times, but only one piece actually uses all the embellishments that were used by Farinelli himself, and that is the last piece, "Quelle'Usignolo." This disk was a really refreshing experience. It was wonderful to finally hear the words when the vocal line was lower, rather than the nasal twang the countertenors often bring to it, and nice to hear upper notes that actually came forth easily. It was nice to hear warmth to a voice singing this music, rather than something akin to scratching ones fingernails down the blackboard. It was nice to hear some "presence" some "personality" in the music, which more often than not it never has. As Vivica Genaux's voice grows and darkens, if she never loses her wonderful agility, then she truly will give this music the life it desperately needs to take it out of the frozen museum piece prison it has been relegated to in the more "authentic recordings" we are often subjected to.