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Handel: Alessandro / Gauvin, Cencic, Lezheneva, Petrou, Armonia Atenea


Release Date: 10/22/2012 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 001755402  
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Xavier SabataJulia LezhenevaMax Emanuel CencicKarina Gauvin,   ... 
Conductor:  George Petrou
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Armonia Atenea
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
On Order: Usually ships in 1 to 2 weeks.  


Notes and Editorial Reviews



Handel’s Alessandro is practically a comic opera despite having as its hero the not-particularly-amusing Alexander the Great. Rather than focusing on his warrior image, the plot centers on two women who love him and vie for his affection; he manages to keep them both enchanted until he chooses one at the opera’s close. Its premiere in 1726 in London was meant not only to showcase the greatest castrato of his time, Senesino, who sang the title role, but also to bring together both a London favorite, soprano Francesca Cuzzoni, who sang Lisaura, and newcomer Faustina Bordoni (a mezzo-soprano) as the rival lover Rosanne. The women already had built up a heady rivalry in Italy a few years before,
Read more and box office was hoping for sparks. It worked brilliantly: there were 13 performances (and would have been more had Senesino not been taken ill), and the rivalry between the women continued.

Cuzzoni was a magnificent singer and apparently an enormously petulant, arrogant woman—Handel once threatened to throw her out of a window—but Bordoni was known for her sweet temperament. Nonetheless, during a performance of Bonincini’s Astianatte in 1727, the two women resorted to punching one another and pulling each other’s hair—or so it was reported. Ah, for the good old days.

And so the opera needs three great singers to make it work: Alessandro himself has eight arias and the two women have about an equal number of arias, plus a duet (and at one point one repeats the other’s words and notes in recitative). The 36-year-old Croatian countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic sings the title role with absolute security, a good-sized voice of a fine color, and the ability to portray Alessandro’s whimsy, uncertainty, and even warrior-like sides—and, I might add, with endless breath and not an aspirate within earshot.

Young mezzo (bordering on soprano—see my review of her debut recital) Julia Lezhneva, who sings Rosanne (the one Alessandro eventually chooses as his bride), can take your breath away: the voice is lovely, with a trill on any and every note, and the registers are even. Her introspective second-act aria “Aura, fonti…”, sung in a garden, has a wistfulness to it that is glorious, and it isn’t just her beautiful tone and fine technique. Lezhneva uses downward portamento with such smoothness and feeling that we’re thoroughly seduced. Moments later she lets loose with fireworks in “Alla sua gabbia…”—but again, with incredible grace and taste.

No less fine is the more sensuous, grander-sounding Karina Gauvin as Lisaura, as impressive in fast music as in the lament “Che tirannia d’amor”, a meltingly lovely aria. As Tassile, an Indian King who is politically aligned with Alessandro but is in love with Lisaura, countertenor Xavier Sabata has a warmly opaque sound and an expressive way with the text. Two conspirators, Leonato and Cleone, are sung well by tenor Juan Sancho and countertenor Vasily Khoroshev, the latter being particularly aggressive with his top register. Bass In-Sung Sim as Clito, a Macedonian captain, impresses with his authority.

George Petrou leading the 30-member-plus period-instrument group Armonia Atenea and The City of Athens Choir has a marvelous sense of the work’s pace; he knows his singers and plays to their strengths. Accompaniments tend to be nicely delicate in reflective numbers without ever being sappy, and the outbursts have real energy. The opera itself may lack something in dramatic weight—there seems little at stake, nobody goes crazy or plots murder—but it’s still super Handel.

Keen ears will note a similarity between the orchestral intro to Rosanne’s first-act “Un lusinghiero…” and the more wild, aggressive “Tornami a vagheggiar” from Alcina of nine years later; indeed, Lezhneva adds a brief cadenza near its close that might have been taken from the later aria. The only other performance of this opera currently available is led by Sigiswald Kuijken and it can’t compare with this one: As fine as René Jacobs is as a conductor, his days as a countertenor (he sings the title role) were not as impressive as Cencic’s currently are, and I suspect that this new Decca set will not be bettered for some time.

-- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Alessandro, HWV 21 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Xavier Sabata (Countertenor), Julia Lezheneva (Soprano), Max Emanuel Cencic (Countertenor),
Karina Gauvin (Soprano), Juan Sancho (Tenor)
Conductor:  George Petrou
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Armonia Atenea
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1726; London, England 

Sound Samples

Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21: Overture
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: "E tanto ancor s?indugia a superare questo vil muro?"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Sinfonia e Recitativo: "Ossidraca superba" - Recitativo - "Oh smisurato ardire!" - Sinfonia del crollo del muro
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Recitativo: "Grazie all?eterno Giove"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Aria: "Fra le stragi e fra le morti"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Recitativo accompagnato: "Che vidi! - Che mirai?"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Recitativo: "Ecco Tassile, il re dell?Indi"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Aria: "Quanto dolce amor sarìa se non fosse gelosia"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Recitativo: "Ne? trofei d?Alessandro trionfa ancor quest?alma"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Aria: "Lusinghe più care"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Recitativo: "Sventurato ch?io sono!"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Aria: "Vibra, cortese Amor, un?altro strale"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Solo e coro: "Fra le guerre e le vittorie fama eterna il ciel mi dà"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Recitativo: "Apprestasti, oh Cleone, i sacrifici a Giove"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Recitativo: "Dalla vittoria alla bellezza in braccio passa un felice vincitor"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Aria: "No, più soffrir non voglio"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Recitativo accompagnato: "Vilipese bellezze"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Recitativo: "Pur ti ritrovo; e perché mai partisti?"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Aria: "Men fedele, men costante finge il labbro, e non il cor"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Recitativo: "Sì, lusingando ei parla, e par che m?ami"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Aria: "Un lusinghiero dolce pensiero"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Recitativo: "Tu, che Rossane adori"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Aria: "Pregi son d?un alma grande l?amicizia"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Recitativo: "Sempre del suo valor, fido seguace sarò"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Aria: "A sprone, a fren leggiero un nobile destriero contento ubbidirà"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Sinfonia
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Recitativo: "Al magnanimo, al forte, al vincitore"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Sinfonia
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Recitativo accompagnato: "Primo motor delle superne sfere"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Recitativo: "Figlio del Re degl?immortali Numi"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Duetto: "Placa l?alma, quieta il petto!"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Recitativo: "Fra gli uomini e fra i Numi"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 1: Aria: "Da un breve riposo di stato amoroso"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Recitativo ed Arioso: "Solitudine amate in cui sfogarmi lice una fiamma infelice"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: "Aure, fonti, ombre gradite"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: "Recitativo ed Arioso: Eccola in preda al sonno"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Aria: "Vano amore, lusinga, diletto"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Recitativo: "Tiranna passion, lasciami in pace!"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Aria: "Sempre fido e disprezzato"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Recitativo: "Pur troppo veggio d?Alessandro il core alla rival rivolto"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Aria: "Che tirannia d?Amor!"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Recitativo: "Qui aspetto l?incostante"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Aria: "Alla sua gabbia d?oro suol ritornar talor quell?augellin"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Recitativo: "Vince al fin la beltà - Recitativo: Vincitor generoso"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Aria: "Risolvo abbandonar la bella che mi sprezza"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Recitativo: "Finto sereno è d?Alessandro in volto"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Aria: "La cervetta nei lacci avvolta"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Sinfonia - Recitativo: "Dopo il sublime onor delle gran geste"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Recitativo: "Oh Dei! che infausta nuova!" - Recitativo: "Recitativo: Sire, il popol già vinto l?armi ripiglia"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Aria: "Il cor mio, ch?è già per te tutto amore e tutto fé"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Recitativo: "Svanisci oh reo timore di tormentosa gelosia!"
Alessandro - Opera in 3 Acts, HWV 21 / Act 2: Aria: "Dica il falso, dica il vero"

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