Notes and Editorial Reviews
Michael Form, cond; Lawrence Zazzo (
); Yetzabel Arias Fernández (
); Rafaella Milanesi (
); Martin Oro (
); Andrew Finden (
); Sebastian Kohlhepp (
); Rebecca Raffell
); Deutsche Händel-Solisten
PAN CLASSICS PC10273 (3 CDs 186:45
Text and Translation) Live: Karlsruhe 2/2012
A hit in its first run in 1726, in London and elsewhere,
has had less success in our day. It is a demanding and lengthy work. The story moves quickly and is fairly silly, and meant to be. This Alexander conquers Ossidraca during the overture, but manages to bungle his subsequent amatory assaults, which constitute the rest of the opera. All manages to end well for him in the nick of time, however, as a good
requires. The performance takes just over three hours, though Bernd Feuchtner, the author of the notes, claims that London audiences in 1726 were in the theater for five (pp. 11, 15, 19).
Part of the original interest in this piece was the hype generated by the presence of the diva, Fausta Bordoni, imported by Handel to rival his regular diva, Francesca Cuzzoni. Their spats made good fodder for the newspapers. This publicity move was a shrewd tactic, as the opera company of which Handel was the chief member was going through a bad financial patch at the time. To top it off, though, he also had the services of the famous alto castrato Senesino (Francesco Bernardi) as Alessandro. It is perhaps this last fact, however, which has hindered modern success for this opera, as Alessandro has no less than eight demanding arias, a challenge for any singer.
This performance must have been a pleasure to see in the house. In front of what I take from the many photographs in the booklet to have been a fairly empty stage, the elegant costumes probably provided a beguiling dance of color. The different demands of an audio recording, however, force us to concentrate upon other things. Handel filled this opera with attractive (and often flashy) music. The first aria by Rossane, for example, “Lusinghe più care” (dearest flatteries), is a sprightly lilting number, with plenty of opportunity for ornamentation, which Fernández does not eschew. She has a light, clear voice that is easy to listen to. Milanesi has a slightly darker sound to balance her rival, and if her fiorature aren’t as stunning as Fernández’s, they are still pretty good. Lawrence Zazzo has been making a good name for himself in Baroque operas, especially those by Handel, and has been well reviewed in these pages. If I am not ultimately sold on his performance here, it is because it sounds like hard going, which does not mean it is by that fact hard listening. It means he has a difficult time sounding as angry as the words he is often given to utter. Things seem to come together for everyone, however, in the mostly gentle and mellifluous second act.
Michael Form leads his band with a light and elegant touch, and keeps things moving along without rushing. The recorded sound is eminently clear and well balanced. Occasional stage thumping reminds us that this is a live performance and there are times when even the most-skillful editor cannot get rid of the audience’s appreciative applause, the fact of which reminds us that the story is secondary in this performance.
Though Bernd Feuchtner tells us that all previous performances in modern times have been cut or heavily edited and that this one, “therefore, can be viewed as a pioneering achievement,” and though I can find credits for almost everyone else, I can find no print, however small, which tells me whose edition they are using, but it may be Richard King’s relatively new one in the Hallische Händel-Ausgabe. It also remains a mystery where the chorus at the end of the third act comes from, as it is also uncredited and sounds like more than just the principals. A second issue that comes to the fore (by no means only here, but certainly here) is what strikes me as a fairly hopeless approach to the recitatives, where they are treated primarily as musical expressions rather than as the place where the story is advanced, placing the words at the forefront. This seems to be endemic in most opera performances today, alas, and it further weakens the notion of opera as story, making it, instead, a concert in funny clothes.
There is a second new recording of this opera that has also just appeared, on Decca, under George Petrou, and there is an earlier one under Sigiswald Kuijken, from 1985, originally on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi but several times since reissued on various labels. I have not been able to hear either of these.
FANFARE: Alan Swanson
Works on This Recording
Alessandro, HWV 21 by George Frideric Handel
Andrew Finden (Baritone),
Martin Oro (Countertenor),
Yetzabel Arias Fernandez (Soprano),
Sebastian Kohlhepp (Tenor),
Lawrence Zazzo (Countertenor),
Rebecca Raffell (Alto)
Deutsche Handel Solisten
Written: 1726; London, England
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