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Handel: Alcina / Bolton, Harteros, Kasarova, Prina, Et Al

Release Date: 10/09/2007 
Label:  Farao   Catalog #: 108080   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Vesselina KasarovaChristopher PurvesJohn Mark AinsleySonia Prina,   ... 
Conductor:  Ivor Bolton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian State Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HANDEL Alcina Ivor Bolton, cond; Anja Harteros ( Alcina ); Vesselina Kasarova ( Ruggiero ); Veronica Cangemi ( Morgana ); Sonia Prina ( Bradamante ); Deborah York ( Oberto ); John Mark Ainsley ( Oronte ); Christopher Purves ( Read more class="ARIAL12i">Melisso ); Bavarian St Op O & Ch FARAO 108080 (3 Hybrid multichannel SACDs: 194:03 Text and Translation) Live: Munich 7/2005

To get to the point immediately, this would be my first choice for a recording of Handel’s Alcina . Although there is some competition, all of it is flawed in some important way, and this recording is not. The landmark 1962 Decca set with Joan Sutherland was an important introduction to this opera for many of us, and we were also still learning what a remarkable singer Sutherland was. But the inconsistent Baroque style of different singers, Bonynge’s overly smooth and somewhat leaden conducting, and his cutting of the score, now make this recording little more than an interesting relic. William Christie’s Erato set with Les Arts Florissants suffers from conducting that is almost unremittingly angular and hard-edged, and inconsistency of approach to ornamentation among some of the singers, though it is hard to resist voices like those of Dessay and Fleming. The strongest set until now has been EMI’s from 1985 (58681), with the wonderful Arleen Augér in the title role, and Kathleen Khulmann, Della Jones, and John Tomlinson. But the weakness in that recording is on the podium—Richard Hickox failed to invest this lengthy score with consistency of energy and tension. (See two excellent in depth reviews in Fanfare 30:4.)

This live recording might annoy some listeners with stage noises and audience reaction (occasional laughter and applause), but that is no problem for me. In fact, it adds to the atmosphere. The singing is consistently good or better than good. Anja Harteros could benefit from a wider tonal palette in the title role, but she sings with commitment, energy, agility, and a lovely pure sound. Vesselina Kasarova continues to impress me as one of the genuinely important mezzo sopranos before the public today, combining an amazingly rich, warm (and unique) timbre with great flexibility. She can vary the color of her voice without ever sounding mannered, or breaking the line of the music; it is a remarkable talent. Veronica Cangemi’s Morgana sparkles with a bright, unforced soprano that manages Handel’s demanding writing with ease. Deborah York sounds at about the edge of her technique in Oberto’s last act aria “Barbara! Io ben lo so,” but she does manage Handel’s ferocious demands, which is saying something for one of the less-important characters in the opera. Sonia Prina’s Bradamante is the closest thing to a weakness here—a voice with little genuine presence, and singing that seems short-breathed. But the tone falls pleasantly enough on the ear. On the male side, tenor John Mark Ainsley exhibits great flexibility in Handel’s coloratura writing without ever sounding pinched or thin-toned. His performance is a complete success. Christopher Purves may not match the depth of tone and variety of inflection that Tomlinson provides for Hickox, but he is more than sufficient.

A good part of the success of this performance is the conducting of Ivor Bolton. He has a relationship of more than a decade with the Bavarian State Opera, so the players know him and play like they are completely comfortable with him. He finds the right balance between lyrical warmth and rhythmic incisiveness—absolutely essential in this score. He gives his singers some freedom, but not too much, so the pulse never vanishes. He includes the brief ballet that ends the second act.

I listened to the SACD in two-channel stereo and found the sound to be very well balanced and natural in its perspective, except that occasionally singers moved off mike because of stage action. This was very minor. The booklet includes a plot synopsis, brief notes about the production, and a German-English-Italian libretto. This is recommended with enthusiasm.

FANFARE: Henry Fogel
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Works on This Recording

Alcina, HWV 34 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Vesselina Kasarova (Mezzo Soprano), Christopher Purves (Bass), John Mark Ainsley (Tenor),
Sonia Prina (Alto), Veronica Cangemi (Soprano), Deborah York (Soprano),
Anja Harteros (Soprano)
Conductor:  Ivor Bolton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian State Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1735; London, England 

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