Notes and Editorial Reviews
In 1733 the Opera of the Nobility was set up in London in opposition to Handel's own opera company. Handel lost all of his star singers except for the soprano Anna Strada del Po - she was rewarded with two of Handel's finest roles, Alcina and Ginevra (Ariodante)). Handel engaged the castrato Carestini as leading man. He had a range of two octaves and an ability to sing elaborate coloratura. He only sang for Handel from 1733 to 1735 but Handel wrote the roles of Ariodante and Ruggiero (Alcina) for him. These are roles which exploited Carestini's virtuosity in instrument-like vocal writing.
For this new recital disc, Bulgarian mezzo-soprano Vesselina Kasarova has assembled a group of arias either written for, or sung by,
Carestini. The result has the potential to be a fascinating and illuminating recital, especially as Kasarova is accompanied by Alan Curtis and his group Il Complesso Barocco.
Whether you enjoy this recital or not will be dependent on what you think about Kasarova's voice. There is no doubt that she is a talented and stylish Handelian, but this is coupled with a rather distinctive voice. It is placed far back, giving it a veiled, hollow sound at times. And she uses glottal catches a lot in her passagework. There is a rich bottom range, with a lighter top; between the two the ranges are not evenly matched and the break is obvious. On first listening to the disc I felt that Kasarova reminded me of someone. On further listening I realised that it was Clara Butt on her early recordings.
Kasarova opens with a pair of arias from Ottone, in which Carestini sang a role originally written for his predecessor Senesino. 'Dove sei' has a nice sense of line and is moving but in 'Un disprezzato affetto' Kasarova's glottal attacks make the passage-work sound a little too much like clucking.
Next come three items from Arianna in Creta. The role of Teseo was the first Handel wrote specifically for Carestini. The short accompagnato, 'Oh patria' is followed by 'Sol ristoro' where Kasarova's sense of line is partnered by a rich yet delicate accompaniment from Il Complesso Barocco. Finally 'Bella sorge' is fast and lovely … with a great deal less clucking.
Handel followed Arianna with a revival of Il Pastor Fido. 'Sento brillar' was added specifically for Carestini, with some brilliant coloratura amazingly sung by Kasarova. She follows this with 'Caro amor' an attractive lyrical number from the original 1712 version of the opera.
Ariodante was probably the greatest role Handel wrote for Carestini. Kasarova sings two arias from the opera 'Con l'ali di costanza' and 'Scherza infida' along with the two recitatives, the group prefaced by the Overture and completed with the arioso 'Numi! Lasciarmi vivere'. Regrettably the passagework in 'Con l'ali di costanza', though fluent, clear and fast, resorts to Kasarova's glottal technique. 'Scherza infida' is well done but does not quite match some of the other versions on record.
Finally a pair of arias from Alcina, 'Mi lusinga' and the beautifully lyrical 'Verdi prati'
Il Complesso Barocco under Alan Curtis provide richly textured accompaniments and show themselves off well in the overture to Ariodante.
The CD booklet includes an informative article and full texts of the arias, each preceded by a summary of the work's performance history under Handel.
This is a puzzling recital. It is imaginatively programmed and Kasarova has a strong technique. But her vocal qualities are so distinctive that I feel I must caution you to try the disc before buying.
-- Robert Hugill, MusicWeb International
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