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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Ariodante – opera in three acts HWV 33 (1734-35)
Joyce DiDonato (mezzo) – Ariodante
Matthew Brook (bass) – The King of Scotland
Karina Gauvin (soprano) – Ginerva
Topi Lehtipuu (tenor) – Lurcanio
Marie Nicole Lemieux (contralto) – Polinesso
Sabina Puértolas (soprano) – Dalinda
Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani (tenor) – Odoardo
Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
rec. January 2010, Villa San Ferma, Lonigo
Texts included
VIRGIN CLASSICS 0708442 [3 CDs: 69:54 + 63:50 + 59:15]

Experience Classicsonline



Ariodante has fared well on disc, and that’s not about to change. Alan Curtis has gathered an estimable vocal team without a weak link, harnessed them to his imaginative, lithe band Il Complesso Barocco, rehearsed thoroughly albeit presumably congenially, and then, still at the Villa San Ferma, Lonigo, set down this three act masterpiece with great flair and imagination.

Too often, weaker Handel operas coast through their first Acts, incrementally building tension but having already dissipated energy too early to create a work that succeeds on every level. With Ariodante one is pitched into the fray without excessive delay. Arias and recitatives, and the ballet music that is so integral a part of the work, all function toward its appointed resolution. With crisp rhythms and resilient orchestral playing to accompany and support them, the solo singers enjoy a perfect platform. Karina Gauvin is Ginerva, and her focused, light, agile, finely scaled voice proves once again estimable whether solo or in ensemble. Polinesso is taken by Marie Nicole Lemieux whose contralto provides the heavy guns, though as her Act I aria Coperta la frode triumphantly demonstrates, this is a singer whose voice and musical sensibilities are of the highest order. Matthew Brook is the Scottish King and manages the tough divisions of Voli colla sua tromba extremely well. His is not a dark chocolately bass but it is focused and stylistically very persuasive indeed. Bigger names have fared much, much worse. He sings splendidly. Topi Lehtipuu is warmly engaging as Lurcanio.

And now to the title role, which is taken by Joyce DiDonato. Her initial appearance makes a lovely impression. She has the voice, the shading, and the technique for the role, and immediately establishes via her arioso Qui d’amor nel suo linguaggio, that she has the personality for it too. She continues in this vein too, proving that she is as fine a mezzo in this role as any on disc. Naturally one’s reservations are personal but in my case persistent. I find, in the context, that the B section of Scherza infida, that recital favourite, is too elastic; that the pause is too ostentatious and knowing – too stagey in short. Also, surely her ornaments are too discursive here, even more so on the return to the ‘A’, which lacks simplicity and repose. The ornaments on long phrases are beautiful – consistently so – but it’s the shorter ones that disconcert me. If you notice the bassoon line, weirdly trilling along, you’ll be doing well.

The opening scene of Act III is intensely dramatic; the recitatives are well paced and whilst DiDonato’s own trilling in Cieca notte is only half successful, it’s of little real account.

Soprano Sabina Puértolas takes on the relatively small role of Dalinda but there is nothing small about her voice, which is excellently calibrated and theatrically impressive. Puértolas’s martial divisions in Neghittosi, or voi che fate? are fiercely etched. When we arrive at Dopo notte we find that DiDonato has a full complement of panache and resplendent tone for it; splendid all round. The two balancing duets for Lurcanio and Dalinda, and then for Ariodante and Ginerva are accomplished with great imagination, balance and tonal sensitivity.

So this highly successful account can now be considered a real front-runner. Minkowski [457 271-2] has Sophie von Otter and Lynne Dawson as well as the formidable, indeed paint-stripping, Polish contralto Ewa Podles. None is demonstrably superior to Curtis’s cast however and I prefer DiDonato to von Otter tonally. McGegan [HMU 907146/8] had the great advantage of Lorraine Hunt in the title role; I wouldn’t ever be without that great singer, notwithstanding DiDonato’s excellence. Ivor Bolton’s cast included Ann Murray, a stellar Handelian, but the other roles are not quite so consistently cast, and I prefer the Curtis recording on this account. Further back, of course, there is Janet Baker with Raymond Leppard, whose LP box still graces my shelves. Like Hunt, Baker’s tone is richer than DiDonato’s, and again there’s no chance of my forsaking her interpretation.

But this new set has real advantages. The full ballet music is here, the work is performed with stylish affection, the ensemble is water-tight, the recording quality is outstanding, and the title role is taken with great authority.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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