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Decca Phase 4
| George Frideric
Rodrigo (1707) [144.49] (1); Radamisto
(1720) [174.02] (2); Admeto (1727) [216.46]
(3); Fernando, Re di Castiglia (1732) [149.19]
(4); Arminio (1737) [146.26] (5); Deidamia
(1741) [180.55] (6)
- Gloria Banditelli (mezzo) (1); Esilena - Sandrine Piau (soprano)
(1); Florinda - Elena Cecchi Fedi (soprano) (1); Giuliano - Rufus
Muller (tenor) (1); Evanco - Roberta Invernizzi (soprano) (1); Fernando
-Caterina Calvi (contralto) (1)
Tiridate - Zachary Stains (tenor) (2); Fraarte - Dominique Labelle
(soprano) (2); Farasmene - Carlo Lepore (bass) (2); Polissena - Patrizia
Ciofi (soprano) (2); Radamisto - Joyce DiDonato (mezzo) (2); Zenobia
- Maite Beaumont (mezzo) (2); Tigrane - Laura Cherici (soprano) (2)
Admeto - Rene Jacobs (counter-tenor) (3); Alceste - Rachel Yakar (soprano)
(3); Ercole/Apollo - Ulrik Cold (bass) (3); Orindo - Rita Dams (alto)
(3); Trasimede - James Bowman (counter-tenor) (3); Antigona - Jill
Gomez (soprano) (3); Meraspe/ Voce - Max van Egmond (bass) (3)
Fernando - Lawrence Zazzo (counter-tenor) (4); Elvida - Veronica Cangemi
(soprano) (4); Dionisio - Filippo Adami (tenor) (4); Isabella - Marianne
Pizzolato (mezzo) (4); Alfonso - Neal Banerjee (counter-tenor) (4);
Sancio - Max Emanuel Cencic (counter-tenor) (4); Altomaro - Antonio
Abete (bass) (4)
Arminio - Vivica Genaux (mezzo) (5); Tusnelda - Geraldine McGreevy
(soprano) (5); Sigismondo - Dominque Labelle (soprano) (5); Ramise
- Manuela Custer (mezzo) (5); Var - Luigi Petroni (tenor) (5); Tullio
- Syste Buwalda (counter-tenor) (5); Segeste - Riccardo Ristori (bass)
Deidamida - Simone Kermes (soprano) (6); Nerea - Dominque Labelle
(soprano) (6); Achille - Anna Maria Panzarella (soprano) (6); Ulisse
- Anna Bonitatibus (mezzo) (6); Fenice - Furio Zanasi (baritone) (6);
Licomede - Antonio Abete (baritone) (6)
Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
rec. (1) - July 1997, Basilica dell'Osservanza, Siena, Italy;
(2) - September 2003, Palazzo Doria Pamphili, San Martino al Cimino,
Viterbo, Italy; (3) - May 1977, Menonitenkirche, Haarlem, Netherlands;
(4) - April 2005, Tonhalle, St. Gallen, Switzerland; (5) - July 2000,
Teatro dei Rozzi, Siena, Italy; (6) - July 2001, Teatro dei Rozzi,
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6958622 [15 CDs + 1 CDR: 1045.21]
Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco have made a number of recordings
of Handel operas over the years. Recently they seem to have
upped the tempo and have been releasing fine accounts of major
operas such as Alcina and Rodelinda. In this boxed
set Virgin have re-packaged six of their recordings made over
a 25 year period. None of the operas is in the top six but each
is unusual and interesting.
Rodrigo is Handel's first opera to be performed in
Italy and his second surviving opera. Radamisto is here
recorded in Handel's first version, it being one of the
few Handel operas where the revised version is preferred. Admeto
is his fascinating encounter with the Alceste myth. Fernando
is Alan Curtis's reconstruction of Handel's original
version of Sosarme. Arminio is one of Handel's
underrated scores and Deidamia is his final encounter
with the opera seria form.
Rodrigo was Handel's first opera for Italy,
premiered in Florence in 1707 under the title Vincer se stesso
e la maggior vittoria. Parts of the score are missing, though
some have turned up in the last twenty years. This recording
uses Curtis's own edition, which restores as much as possible
and introduces some music from other Handel sources to make
things good. Curtis cuts the dances, which is a shame as these
give the work a slightly more distinctive form. More worryingly,
Curtis has cut the recitative quite drastically, presumably
to get the opera to fit onto 2 CDs. In its original form Rodrigo
evidently has a great deal more recitative than is provided
here; in places the recitative is so short that it seems like
mere linkaging between the arias.
Like Agrippina - Handel's other surviving opera from
his Italian period - the arias in Rodrigo are generally
rather shorter than in his more mature operas. Though he does
provide more extended numbers; Act 1 finishes with a fine substantial
piece for Esilena - the heroine and Rodrigo's Queen, sung
by Sandrine Piau - in which Piau produces a wonderful cantilena.
The action is the usual dynastic shuffling set in Visigothic
Spain with Rodrigo (Gloria Banditelli) as the King, Esilena
(Sandrine Piau) as his Queen, Rufus Muller and Elena Cecchi
Fedi are the brother and sister duo Florinda and Giulino. Evanco,
once King of Aragon, is sung by Roberta Invernizzi and Fernando,
Rodrigo's General, by Caterina Calvi. In the original cast
Handel used a soprano castrato for Rodrigo, alto castrato for
Fernando and a female soprano for Evanco.
The best singing comes from Sandrine Piau as the heroine Esilena;
she does fine justice to the dazzling sequence of arias which
Handel gives her. In addition to the close of Act 2, she gets
wonderful pair of contrasting arias in succession in Act 2.
Piau is technically adept and has a lovely lyrical voice which
she displays well here.
By contrast, Elena Cecchi Fedi is technically adept but has
rather a tendency to sing with edgy tone, sometimes verging
on the shrill. It may be that she is trying to characterise
Florinda as a shrew (this was Stanley Sadie's generous thought
in his original Gramophone Review). Whether deliberate or no,
her tone quality verges on the unpleasant at times and can be
a bit wearing.
Gloria Banditelli sings Rodrigo with good firm, dark contralto
tones; she doesn't fear to punch out the coloratura in a
vividly virile manner where necessary. But when necessary she
can sing with a lovely lyrical charm and is admirably even in
the faster virtuoso passages. She creates a strikingly direct
impression as the military ruler.
Roberta Invernizzi is rather more uneven as Evanco. She is beautifully
evocative in Evanco's Act 2 aria Prestami un solo daro
but in other places here passagework is effortful and uneven.
Rufus Muller's Giuliano is vividly virile, but with a rather
bullying tone in his first aria. He modifies this for his later
ones and turns in a brilliant performance in Spirti fieri,
Giuliano's first Act 3 aria. Caterina Calvi, as Fernando,
has a rather soft-grained voice which can sound akin to a counter
tenor. Her contributions are creditable though her runs are
Handel obviously made a great deal of effort when writing this
opera, presumably intending to impress the Medici who were the
sponsors. The accompaniments include a variety of concertante
moments for harpsichord, for flute and for viola along with
a striking aria in Act 2, which Rodrigo sings to the accompaniment
of unison cellos.
Radamisto was premiered by Handel in April 1720
with his long-time supporter Margherita Durastanti in the title
role. This was her first London performance but they had performed
together a lot in Italy and she had sung the title role in Agrippina.
You may wonder at Curtis's casting of DiDonato in the title
role but DiDonato is quite a high mezzo and Durastanti had a
relatively low soprano voice. In summer 1720 Durastanti announced
that she was pregnant and in autumn that year the castrato Senesino
arrived in London. Handel substantially re-wrote Radamisto
for Senesino in the title role. This is one of those rare
occasions where Handel's revised version is preferred to
the original, so it is illuminating to have this recording of
Handel's original; we don't quite get the whole thing:
in Act 3 Curtis substitutes a couple of arias from the later
In his original cast Handel had only one castrato, a soprano
castrato in the role of Fraarte, Radamisto and Tigrane being
played by women; with the villain, Tiridate played by a tenor.
In the revised version Tiridate was played by a bass, with Durastanti
moving to Zenobia.
The opera is a prime example of the serious opera which Handel
wrote during the first Royal Academy period. The plot is rather
complex and contrived, but the effects are brilliant as the
characters are run through the mill, each being put in a succession
of awkward and terrible situations; thus the singers get to
react and show off their brilliance. The plot concerns the warring
lengths that Tiridate (Zachary Stains) will go to to get his
hands on his sister-in-law Zenobia (Maite Beaumont), wife of
Radamisto (Joyce DiDonato). Its theme of a warring Royal Family
was probably felt to be relevant to the quarrelling between
George I and the Prince of Wales. The opera was chosen to mark
a short-lived public reconciliation between the two.
Radamisto is finely sung by Joyce DiDonato. She is dignified,
darkly beautiful and manages to be sublime in her Act 2 aria
Ombra cara, whilst producing vivid streams of notes in
Vanne sorella. As his wife Zenobia, Maite Beaumont is
nobly dignified and suffers beautifully. Her opening cavatina
to Act 2 is especially notable.
Dominique Labelle is technically superb as Fraarte, Tiridate's
brother. She gets several tricky numbers and the notes seem
to just run off her voice in the most delightful of manners.
Patrizia Ciofi is fragile and touching as the put upon Polissenna,
wife of Tiridate. Her passage-work is not always ideal but she
creates the long-suffering character finely.
Polissena and Radamisto's father, Farasmene, is sung in
a suitably virile manner by Carlo Lepore. Tigrane, who is in
love of Polissena, is sung by Laura Cherci with an ideally focused
voice and bright tones, where necessary contributing some lovely
even runs. Though beyond technique, I am never sure whether
Cherci is fully engaged with the drama.
This issue of engagement with the drama is made all the more
apparent when it comes to the villain of the piece, Tiridate.
Zachary Stains sings with flexibility and fluidity, but his
tone is rather edgy and gets thin at the upper levels. His aria
in Act 3, to which Handel adds parts for two horns, simply fails
to convince of the character's villainy. To make this type
of drama come alive, we need a little more than nice singing.
The character must come out through the music, so that villains
should be villainous and heroes heroic.
For this piece to work as drama, we must believe Tiridate capable
of waging a terrible war simply so that he can possess his sister-in-law,
and frankly we just don't. The rest of the cast articulate
the drama neatly and effectively. Zachary Stains apart, they
all sing completely beautifully; there are lots of lovely clean
even voices here. But for most of Acts 1 and 2, no-one sounds
really under pressure, at the end of their tether. The action
becomes more moving, more dramatic in Act 3 but I would have
happily sacrificed a little perfection of tone to gain more
immediacy in drama.
An added problem is perhaps that of voice types, something which
can be laid partly at Handel's door. Of the five upper voices,
three are sopranos and one is a low soprano - here sung by high
mezzo Joyce DiDonato. The lowest of the upper voices is Maite
Beaumont in the female role of Zenobia; this makes difficult
the attempt at masculine vocal characterisation by the two sopranos
singing the male parts. But this is another one of those operas
where a little more differentiation in vocal timbre and character
would be an advantage. In an opera with five high voices in
the main characters, having rather better distinguished vocal
qualities would be a great advantage. That said there is some
stunning singing here and I would not want to be without the
Admeto was written during the period when Handel
had sopranos Cuzzoni and Faustina, and castrato Senesino in
his cast. This means that the opera had to be written with a
moderately balanced pair of female roles for Cuzzoni and Faustina.
The story is the standard one of Alceste sacrificing her life
for that of her husband Admeto. But the libretto is based on
a Venetian one, so it has a sub-plot which includes rather more
wit and irony than is found in Gluck's classical version.
In Handel's version, Alceste is rescued from Hades at the
beginning of Act 2. The remainder of the opera deals with how
after Alceste's death, Admeto returns to a previous love
Antigona, who he had previously rejected and with Alceste's
This recording is the odd one out as it was recorded in 1977,
some twenty years or more before any of the other operas in
this set. The wonder is that it fits in so well, though there
is a certain slowness and heaviness in the recitative. The difference
in date also means that Curtis is working with a radically different
group of singers.
René Jacobs is rather an acquired taste in the title
role, and I must admit that it is a taste that I have yet to
acquire. The way he attacks the notes in a flat - straight-attack
- manner is very distinctive, but creates a quality to the voice
which makes it sound as if he might be singing flat (as in pitch).
This would not matter if his manner was more suitably heroic,
but it just isn't. That said, he does contribute moments
of great beauty and is never less than expressive. But Admeto,
as the Senesino role, gets plenty of arias so if you react to
Jacobs as I do, then this can be a problem.
As his two women, Rachel Yakar and Jill Gomez are nearly ideal.
Yakar sings Alceste with pure, clear tone and is moving in Alceste's
slower numbers, whilst being vividly dramatic when necessary;
though it must be admitted that her runs are a little smudged
at times. Jill Gomez is similarly fluent and charming; she can
be touching and emotional with some neatly done virtuoso passages.
Act 2 concludes with a pair of arias, one for each heroine;
here Handel pulled out all the stops and so do Yakar and Gomez.
This is one of the few discs in the set where the tonal differentiation
between the principals is distinct enough. Yakar and Gomez have
quite differing voices, as do Jacobs and James Bowman who plays
Admeto's brother Trasimede. Bowman sings with his usual
liquid tones. Ulrik Cold and Max van Egmond contribute fine
performances in a variety of smaller, but important roles. Cold's
opening aria as Ercole is brilliantly done. And Rita Dams sings
Orindo's single aria neatly.
Admeto is one of those plots which require a degree of
suspension of disbelief. Alceste's behaviour when coming
back from Hades is such that you want to shake her and tell
her not to be so stupid. You have to put all thought of Gluck
behind you and take the opera simply as an opera seria. But
if you can do this, then there is much to enjoy.
For his 1731-32 opera season at the King's Theatre Handel
wrote two new operas, Ezio (setting a libretto by Metastasio)
and a new opera based on Salvi's libretto for Dionisio,
Re di Portogallo. His company had rather changed. Senesino,
remained as did his prima donna, Strada, and the contralto Merighi,
but other singers had left and were replaced by a group of singers
new to the London stage. This group included Pinnacci, one of
the finest tenors to work for Handel, and the great bass, Montagnana.
Ezio failed with the public, it ran for
only five performances. This seems to have given Handel and
librettist Paolo Rolli rather cold feet. Handel had around two-thirds
of his next opera written. It was to be called Fernando,
Re di Castiglia. In the light of Ezio's failure, Handel
cut the recitative of the new opera even further, renamed it
Sosarme, Re di Medea, and renamed most of the characters.
Handel's decision to cut the recitative even further is
understandable; London audiences could be famously intolerant
of long stretches of recitative. Handel removed a further 134
bars of recitative, the majority from Act 1. As to why the opera
was renamed and relocated, Winton Dean has speculated that someone
must have warned Handel that an opera which portrayed Portugal
in an unfavourable light would not sit well with King George
as Portugal was Britain's oldest ally.
The renaming and relocating of the opera had virtually no impact
on the plot, but the removal of the recitative had a rather
catastrophic effect on the complex plot. The opera is musically
strong and Alan Curtis has taken the decision to restore as
much as possible of the original recitative. Playing the opera
in its original location with the original character names leaves
the drama undisturbed, but helps to differentiate between the
The main problem with this restoration is that Curtis has been
able to restore 100 bars to Act 1 and 34 to Act 2, but nothing
to Act 3 as Handel wrote this after his final set of cuts to
the recitative. This means that the opera, as performed by Curtis,
is possibly a little unbalanced as compared to what Handel was
intending, before the failure of Ezio. But his restoration
does give us a glimpse of the fuller opera which Handel was
contemplating, with more detail to the complex plotting. Also,
Handel's final revisions were inevitably very rushed and
some details, such as the fuller version of Alfonso's accompanied
recitative in Act 1, are better in the original.
The plot, such as it is, is the sort of complex dynastic quarrel
beloved of opera seria writers. Such plots enabled the librettist
to put his characters into a series of strong situations; it
is these episodes that matter and neither librettist, nor composer,
seemed to worry if the way the characters got there was a little
Dionisio, King of Portugal is struggling with a rebellion by
his eldest son, Alfonso, with Dionisio besieging the city of
Coimbra which is held by the rebels. Alfonso is jealous of Dionisio's
natural son, Sancio, but this jealousy has been fanned by the
evil machinations of Dionisio's counsellor, Altomaro. Dionisio's
daughter, Elvida, is betrothed to Fernando, King of Castile,
but the two are prevented from meeting by the struggle. Elvida
and her mother, Isabella, are held inside the Royal palace in
Coimbra. Eventually Alfonso and Dionisio resolve to meet in
single combat, but this is foiled by Fernando and all ends satisfactorily.
Sosarme has not been that strongly served on disc and
with the expansion of the recitative in the new version, it
is heartening to report that the cast on this version deliver
the recitative in a highly dramatic and involving manner. For
anyone following the plot in detail, we get a vividly portrayed
drama played out before us. Even if you don't follow the
entire libretto, then the results are intensely involving.
When it comes to details of individual vocal performance, Curtis's
cast are a little more variable. Though the final performance
is creditable, this is regrettably not one of the most top-drawer
casts with whom Curtis has worked.
In the Senesino role of Fernando, Lawrence Zazzo is suitably
dramatic. His more martial passage-work is apt to turn into
bluster but in the more lyric passages, Zazzo spins a lovely
line. He and Elvida (Veronica Cangemi) share two lovely duets
- the opera is notable for having three duets. Zazzo can be
quite generous with his use of vibrato but it is never overpowering
and he retains a good sense of line.
Cangemi is also adept at spinning long lines and floating some
wonderful high notes. There are moments when her passage-work
sounds smudged and in her final aria there are hints of her
top being squeezed. Cangemi also gets a strong accompagnato
at the beginning of Act 2 when her lovely long soprano line
is supported by a jagged string accompaniment. Neither Cangemi
nor Zazzo are perfect but at their best, both are fine talents
displayed in a suitably dramatic manner.
Two more of the cast almost equal Zazzo and Cangemi. As Altomaro,
Antonio Abete, displays a fine, focused baritone voice, which
is attractively grainy and suitably expressive. All he really
lacks are the resonant low notes required of him in his opening
aria - Montagnana, the original Altomaro had a very wide range.
Marianna Pizzolato is a trifle more variable as Isabella (Elvida's
mother and Dionisio's wife). At her best she is a fine dramatic
singer, with some good and finely etched tone and line and crisp
passage-work, but she does not always manage to stick to this
high standard. She and Alfonso (Neal Banerjee) share a duet
at the opening of Act 2 which is one of Handel's rarer duets
of opposition, with the two singers portraying complementary
points of view.
Neither tenor is really in the same class. Filippo Adami, as
Dionisio, has a regrettably dry-sounding voice with a less than
ideal grainy tone. Technically he is perfectly OK, but fails
to ignite dramatically; he just does not bring one of Handel's
more challenging tenor parts to life. Neal Banerjee as Alfonso
is inclined to bluster and fails to provide a good feel for
the musical line.
As Sancio, Max Emanuel Cencic has a markedly feminine tone with
a tight vibrato; he is undoubtedly a strongly dramatic singer
though his passage-work is not ideal.
This is creditable performance that falls down mainly on detail.
A couple of cast changes to strengthen the cast would have turned
this from a recommendable, but not ideal performance, into one
that would have been outstanding. Still we do get a highly dramatic
presentation of one of Handel's more underrated operas.
Like Sosarme, Arminio had its recitative
cut to the bone by the librettist Antonio Salvi, and Handel
seems to have responded to the challenges of the rival Opera
of the Nobility with rather shorter arias. The opera has tended
to get ignored in the past and when this recording was first
issued in 2001 it was a notable milestone.
Vivica Genaux sings the title part, which was originally written
for an alto castrato. Genaux sings with a fine line and can
be suitably virile when necessary, which is always useful when
playing a trousers role. And in a pair of arias at the start
of Act 2 she shows a nice turn for bravura as well as a firm
and vividly dramatic way with the music. Interestingly the opera
opens with a duet for Arminio and his wife Tusnelda (Geraldine
McGreevy). This is beautifully sung and involving from the first
moment; they have you hooked.
It must be admitted that McGreevy's passage-work is sometimes
a little generalised, but she has a fragile-sounding, attractive
voice with a nice gloss of expressive plangency. In her final
aria she also combines brilliance with bold dramatics.
The second couple, Tusnelda's brother Sigismondo and his
wife Ramise (Arminio's sister) are sung by Dominique Labelle
and Manuela Custer. Here Labelle and Custer are at the mercy
of Handel's original casting as Sigismondo was originally
sung by a soprano castrato and Ramise by a contralto. Labelle
has a firm, but rather soft-grained voice; her Sigismondo is
finely sung but insufficiently virile. I can't complain
too much because Labelle's singing is consistently rewarding
and musical, but it would have been nice to feel the character
was less feminine.
Custer has a lovely dark-toned voice and can be more virile
than Labelle; you definitely know who wears the trousers in
this marriage. There were, however, moments in her Act 2 aria
when she sounded a little over careful; still, in Act 3 she
recovers form and delivers a bravura account of her final aria.
Sytse Buwalda, as the Roman captain Tullio, is rather soft-grained
and shallow of tone but gives a creditable account of his arias.
Luigi Petroni as Varo, the Roman General, has a pleasantly focused
voice but his final aria, to which Handel adds horns, is frankly
rather underpowered. Bass Riccardo Ristori impresses as Segeste.
Arminio is never going to be top-drawer Handel but there
is much lovely music in it. Act 2 is particularly strong with
an interested sequence of arias which includes a slow one for
Arminio reminiscent of He was despised. This performance
is not perfect, but the cast impresses nevertheless and make
a very strong case.
Deidamia was Handel's last Italian opera and,
as such, you would expect it to be some sort of summation of
his career in opera seria. But by the time of his final Italian
operas you rather feel that his interest had passed on to oratorio.
Deidamia was first performed in 1741; Handel had already
written Saul and was about to start on Messiah.
Public taste seems to have moved on from the great serious operas
of Handel's Royal Academy days. His contemporaries were
writing operas with shorter, lighter arias and Handel experimented
with adaptations of his style. He also chose librettos with
some satirical element, but the results do not seem to have
been all that popular.
Deidamia deals with the episode in Achilles' life
where he is disguised as a girl and is visited by Ulysses (Ulisse)
to persuade him to join the planned Trojan War. Deidamia is
a princess who is in love with Achilles.
The four main roles (Achille, Ulisse, Deidamia, Nerea) are all
written for high voices. Handel used three female sopranos and
an alto castrato, but here Alan Curtis uses four women; Simone
Kermes (soprano) as Deidamia, Dominique Labelle (soprano) as
Nerea, Anna Maria Panzarella (soprano) as Achille and Anna Bonitatibus
(mezzo) as Ulisse. They are joined by two baritones, Furio Zanasi
as Fenice and Antonio Abete as Licomede.
The four women's voices are not dissimilar, which means
that it is rather tricky to follow the opera without the aid
of the libretto. Also neither Anne Bonitatibus nor Anna Maria
Panzarella sounds particularly virile or masculine. Both are
technically excellent, but in style and attitude they sound
very feminine and, at times, positively sexy.
My recent live encounters with Simone Kermes have been with
her incarnating some of Handel's bad girls, so it is interesting
to find her here as the heroine Deidamia. Her vocal style is
quite distinctive, not to say mannered. She has a remarkable
range and flexibility which she uses to striking effect; though
she does have a tendency to include excessive high notes in
her decorations. There are many beautiful moments but her tendency
to sing with fragile sound and husky tones may not be to everyone's
taste. In fact, I rather longed for a soprano who sang with
a smoother, more well defined line. Kermes seems to be at her
best in the tender moments of the character and here she shines.
As her confidant Nerea, Dominique Labelle impresses greatly.
She sings musically, shapes her phrases beautifully, and is
capable of producing nicely even runs. All in all a pleasantly
characterful account of the role, sung by a voice with a real
Handelian ping to it.
Anna Bonitatibus, as Ulisse, has a light clear mezzo which produces
a beautiful sound and is highly musical. As pure singing, hers
is some of the best Handel singing on the disc. But she lacks
the darkness and virility that some singers might have brought
to the role, though it is hard to feel too hard done by where
singing is like this.
Anna Maria Panzarella as Achille is sometimes quite feminine;
here you must allow for the fact that Achille is meant to be
youthful and in drag. Her opening aria in Act 1 is wonderfully
vivid, and her big aria at the end of Act 2 is technically impressive,
in other places she demonstrates a fine ring to her voice.
The two baritones, Furio Zanasi and Antonio Abete, have relatively
small roles but both impress with the mellifluousness of their
delivery and evenness of their runs. Both are admirably lacking
Deidamia might not be one of Handel's greatest operas
but it has some lovely music and a dramaturgy which can be effective.
Whilst not given an ideal performance here, Curtis and his forces
make a good case for the opera and make it sound convincingly
On all the discs Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco accompany in
exemplary fashion. True, they do not always dig as deeply as
they might in Handel's richer, more complex numbers. But
their crisp, lively accompaniment is one of the constants throughout
all of these discs and they contribute some exemplary instrumental
Another constant, and less welcome, is the freedom which Curtis
gives his singers to interpolate elaborate ornamentation and
high notes in the da capo sections of the arias. Simone Kermes
is a particular offender when it comes to the added high notes,
but on most of the discs there are examples of over-fussy ornamentation
and effective recomposing of the vocal line.
The set comes on 15 CDs, with a booklet containing cast details
and track listings. Full librettos are included on a separate
CDR in the box. This CDR contains the PDFs of the original CD
booklets, so you get introductory articles plus libretti and
translations, which can be viewed on screen or downloaded to
your PC. The drawback is that the PDFs still use the CD booklet
page size so that if you want to print them out, the result
is rather a waste of paper.
Whilst I might quibble about various details in this set, it
is nonetheless impressive value. Virgin offers six strong recordings
of Handel operas for around £40: incredible value. None
of the operas on the disc are first rank Handel but all are
interesting and all receive convincing and creditable performances.
If you are new to Handel operas, then it may be best if you
look elsewhere. But if you are looking for an economic way to
extend your Handel library then this is ideal.
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