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Decca Phase 4
Adolf HASSE (1699-1783)
Cleofide (excerpts) (1730) [77.36]
Cleofide – Emma
Erissena – Agnes Mellon (soprano)
Randall K. Wong – Gandarte (soprano counter-tenor)
Poro - Derek Lee Ragin (counter-tenor)
Alessandro - Dominique Visse (counter-tenor)
Timagene - David Cordier (counter-tenor)
Capella Coloniensis/William Christie
rec. Lindlar, Schulzentrum, May 1986
EDITION 178 [77.36]
Like Handel, Johann
Adolf Hasse was a German who trained in Italy; in Hasse’s
case it was Naples. Also like Handel he devoted much of
his working life to Opera Seria outside Italy. He married
Handel’s diva, Faustina Bordoni, and the pair of them spent
a substantial part of their working life in Dresden.
was born fourteen years after Handel so his operas belong
to the transitional generation where opera was moving from
baroque to classical. Unlike Handel, Hasse seems to have
been very fond of the librettos of Metastasio. His setting
of Cleofide dates from the 1730s and represents
a fairly substantial revision of Metastasio’s Alessandro
nell’Indie. Handel was to set the same libretto, also
substantially revised, as Poro.
Christie’s complete recording of the opera with Capella
Coloniensis was issued on the Capriccio label in 1988.
It contains some thirty arias and lasts some 230 minutes.
This disc seems to be excerpts from this recording; I say ‘seems
to be’ because though the cast and conductor are the same,
there is nothing in the liner-notes to indicate that this
disc has its origins in the complete performance. What
we have here is the overture, Indian March, nine arias,
a duet and the final coro, giving us a good sampling of
the complete work.
did not write music with depth and originality like Handel.
He did not seem to be able to plumb the emotional depths.
He was however gifted at writing brilliant, attractive
and apposite music popular with audiences and singers alike.
Hasse requires a cast of superb singers who can cope with
his virtuoso demands, but he then provides music which
flatters them and showcases their talent.
a dramatic point of view it is perhaps significant that
Hasse seems to have liked Metastasio’s librettos and found
them extremely congenial. Whereas all of Handel’s best
work was based on librettos from other sources, often with
origins in seventeenth century operas.
cast on this disc is superb and we cannot ask for a better
showcase for Hasse’s talent. The title role is taken by
Emma Kirkby, on superb form. She does not have the type
of voice that you associate with a baroque diva. Her best
Handelian role is the lighter character of Dorinda the
shepherdess in Orlando. Here she takes the title
role, Cleofide; a role sung by Bordoni. I would suspect
that Bordoni was able to bring darker tones and a more
dramatic delivery. But there is no gainsaying the sheer
brilliance of Kirkby’s technique; in all of her arias she
is simply ravishing. You never get the feeling that she
is mining real depths of feeling, but this seems to be
Hasse’s fault rather than hers. Kirkby gets the lion’s
share of the excerpts with three arias and a duet with
Lee Ragin’s Poro gets two arias plus the duet with Kirkby.
Ragin is on form here, dazzling with his coloratura and
very, very dramatic with his tone. Ragin uses the different
colours of his various registers to dramatic effect. He
is not a counter-tenor who attempts to blend his registers
seamlessly. Whilst I would not want to hear everyone doing
this, Ragin does provide a distinctive voice in the drama.
other singers get a single aria each. Randall Wong’s Gandarte
is sung with an astounding male soprano voice and with
a lovely bright tone. He is, however, rather careful with
his passagework. David Cordier sings Timagene with a warm
mezzo-soprano tone which is attractive but rather feminine. Like
Wong, Cordier is rather careful with the passagework and
displays a little strain at the top. His aria is accompanied
by a lovely obbligato flute. Dominique Visse, as Alessandro,
has a rather darker voice with a slightly hollow tone.
His aria includes a stunning obbligato horn, the singer
apparently unphased by the part’s high tessitura.
counter-tenors seem to have been chosen for their variety
so that, on a long complete recording, it becomes easy
to tell them apart - something record companies tend to
forget when casting opera seria.
Mellon makes a lovely Erissena, singing with a light bright
voice, which is not that different from Kirkby’s. Not a
problem on this highlights disc, but I imagine it might
become a problem on the complete recording.
CD booklet has a rather bald plot summary but no texts.
So if you want to know what's happening in the arias on
the disc, I'm afraid you are going to have to do some research.
Christie makes a good case for Hasse’s music and he is
well supported by Cappella Coloniensis. For anyone interested
in what Handel’s younger contemporaries were doing, I have
no hesitation in directing you to this attractive and finely
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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