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Handel: Alcina / Leitner, Sutherland, Wunderlich

Release Date: 01/27/2009 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 001250302   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Norma ProcterDame Joan SutherlandJeannette van DijckFritz Wunderlich,   ... 
Conductor:  Ferdinand Leitner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cappella ColoniensisCologne Radio Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HANDEL Alcina Ferdinand Leitner, cond; Joan Sutherland ( Alcina ); Jeannette van Dijck ( Morgana ); Norma Procter ( Bradamante ); Fritz Wunderlich ( Ruggiero ); Nicola Monti ( Oronte ); Thomas Hemsley ( Melisso ); Cologne RCh Read more class="ARIAL12">(Bernhard Zimmermann, dir); Cappella Coloniensis DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 001250302, mono (2 CDs: 151:54 Text and Translation) Live: Cologne 5/15/1959

This recording preserves a concert performance held to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Handel’s death. Ironically, Joan Sutherland and Fritz Wunderlich were not originally scheduled to participate, yet it is their singing that gives this recording its value and accounts for its many incarnations on LP and CD. Nicola Monti, who was supposed to sing Ruggiero, had learned the role of Oronte for the performance, a reasonable mistake, considering that Oronte is the only tenor role in the opera. When the mistake was discovered, he did not believe that he had time to learn the other role, and the vocal line, transposed down an octave, did not fit his voice well. Wunderlich agreed to learn the role in time for the concert. Sutherland, who had performed the role a couple of years earlier, was a replacement for an indisposed singer.

Sutherland sings magnificently. She sounds even better here than on her celebrated Decca recording three years later. The voice is evenly produced throughout its range, and she is fully invested in the drama, despite the absence of a staged performance. Wunderlich, too, is spectacular. Despite having to cope with music written for a much higher voice, he has no problem with the florid music, although he makes occasional adjustments in the vocal line to help with the tessitura.

The rest of the cast is not in the same league; they sing well enough, but do not make much of an impression. Leitner’s tempos are a little slower than we have become accustomed to of late, but he paces the opera well. The Cappella Coloniensis was a pioneer in the early movement toward performance practice. The CD booklet says it was the first modern orchestra to perform on period instruments, although the results here sound like modern instruments. But we do get recorders instead of flutes where Handel indicates “flauto,” and the pitch is 415 Hz. Da capo ornaments in general are tasteful and idiomatic.

The score is fiercely cut. The role of Oberto is completely eliminated. Aside from his three arias, two others are cut entirely. In addition, four arias lose their B section and da capo ; six arias and the trio have their first section cut during the da capo . One movement of the act I ballet is cut, as is the entire ballet at the end of act II.

Deutsche Grammophon proclaims this as the first “official” release of the recording, which has appeared on various pirate labels. Ralph Lucano, reviewing a previous incarnation in 13: 4, said that the sound was outstanding, so I am not sure anything other than legitimacy and a translation of the libretto are gained by the current release.

To experience Sutherland’s Alcina in all its glory, with all roles sung at their correct pitch in a nearly complete recording, her Decca recording is essential. Outstanding on that recording are all her colleagues: Teresa Berganza, Monica Sinclair, Mirella Freni, Graziella Sciutti, Luigi Alva, and Ezio Flagello. But Wunderlich’s singing alone is worth the cost of these discs; when combined with Sutherland’s performance, the attraction is hard to resist.

FANFARE: Ron Salemi
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Works on This Recording

Alcina, HWV 34 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Norma Procter (Alto), Dame Joan Sutherland (Soprano), Jeannette van Dijck (Mezzo Soprano),
Fritz Wunderlich (Tenor), Nicola Monti (Tenor), Thomas Hemsley (Baritone)
Conductor:  Ferdinand Leitner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cappella Coloniensis,  Cologne Radio Chorus
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1735; London, England 
Date of Recording: 5/15/1959 
Venue:  Live Cologne, Germany 

Featured Sound Samples

Alcina: "Di' cor mio, quanto t'amai"
Alcina: "La bocca vaga"

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