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Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783)
Cleofide (excerpts) (1730) [77.36]
Cleofide – Emma Kirkby (soprano)
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)
Rheinische Kantorei
Capella Coloniensis/William Christie
rec. Lindlar, Schulzentrum, May 1986
Experience Classicsonline

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.
Hasse 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.
William 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.
Hasse 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.
From 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.
The 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 Poro.
Derek 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.
The 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.
The 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.
Agnes 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.
The 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.
William 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 sung disc.
Robert Hugill


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