An Alcina up there with the best – this could be the one we’ve been waiting for
"This could be the Alcina we’ve been waiting for," says our review. Quite. From the outset, Curtis sets the tone – vibrant, alert and alive. He is blessed with a luxury cast of singers, led by the imperious Joyce DiDonato. The drama hums along, while the forces of Il Complesso Barocco simultaneously prove the most sensitive of accompanists. Wonderful.
-- Gramophone [5/2009]
The early-'60s Joan Sutherland/Decca recording of this opera--despite a large orchestra, cuts, Sutherland-without-consonantsRead more and at times sounding morose, with a showy aria given to Alcina (Sutherland) that actually belonged to Morgana--nonetheless opened our ears to how glorious this opera is. It is on par with the composer's Giulio Cesare, Rodelinda, and Tamerlano. Brimming with music--at least three characters have six arias each, and there are close to 30 in all--Alcina is filled with intrigue, jealousies, mad passions, enchantments, and some of Handel's most colorful orchestrations, melodic invention, and memorable arias to go with the situations.
Since 1962, other recordings have shown up--one, a concert performance from 1959, also with Sutherland and featuring the great Fritz Wunderlich in the "normally" mezzo role of Ruggiero, is terrific, but it's only for specialists since it is abridged and decidedly non-authentic. William Christie's performance with Renée Fleming and Natalie Dessay is filled with stars, but the conductor indulges Fleming, who is not to the Handelian manner born, while Richard Hickox's reading is far more exciting and stars a superb Arleen Auger--idiomatic, exciting, complicated. But this new performance may trump them all.
It is the first to use a mezzo as Alcina instead of the usual soprano, and by adhering to Baroque concert pitch, A=415, there's no strain of note. In addition, using a somewhat heavier voice with a darker tone (and superb diction) we fully understand both Alcina's menace and allure. Of course, without the right mezzo it would be for nought, but Joyce DiDonato here is just grand, singing with staggering accuracy, better expressiveness than all the competition, great sensuality and insinuation when called for, and true viciousness when angered. A confused sorceress-in-love, Alcina is multi-faceted and DiDonato paints the complete picture; her despondency makes you feel for her.
As her beloved Ruggiero, probably no singer will ever match Teresa Berganza in the Sutherland/Decca set (although Wunderlich, as mentioned above, though all wrong for the role, sings "Verdi prati", one of Handel's most gorgeous arias, as beautifully as humanly possible)--but Maite Beaumont is superb in the role, singing with a plush tone and wonderful involvement. Karina Gauvin, as Alcina's sister Morgana, is one of the new breed of Handel singers--pure of voice, adept at coloration. Sonia Prina's Bradamante (engaged to Ruggiero but disguised as her own brother) is properly gender-non-specific; her darkish tone is most welcome and unique. Tenor Kobie Van Rensburg has a fine technique and impresses as Oronte, Alcina's henchman, and Vito Priante as Bradamante's tutor Melisso uses his dark bass with aplomb. Soprano Laura Cherici sings Oberto, a young boy whose father has been enchanted by Alcina, and she is lovely, but not quite boyish.
Alan Curtis leads the Complesso Barocco with flair and with fine if occasionally very quick tempos (Alcina's third-act "Ma quando tornerai" is breakneck). The ballet music that shows up occasionally is handsomely played and makes sense where it is placed. If you had to nitpick, well, the vocal lines are occasionally embellished within an inch of their lives, but it makes for exciting listening. I wouldn't want to do without either Sutherland or the Auger performance, but if you want to hear Alcina in its most honest, probably truest form, then this is the one for you.
Alcina, HWV 34 / Act 2: E' un folle, è un vil affetto
Alcina, HWV 34 / Act 2: Ed è ver che mi narri?
Alcina, HWV 34 / Act 2: Verdi prati
Alcina, HWV 34 / Act 2: Ah! Ruggiero crudel, tu non mi amasti!
Alcina, HWV 34 / Act 2: Ombre pallide, lo so, mi udite
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
An extraordinary opera with an extraordinary castAugust 16, 2014By Weston Williams (Birmingham, AL)See All My Reviews"I'm not sure I can recommend this opera highly enough. It's one of Handel's best, with probably one of the best casts of baroque specialists that can be assembled this side of Handel's lifetime. If you're looking to dive into the world of baroque opera, this is a good place to start. If you're already a fan of baroque opera, buy this recording now."Report Abuse
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