George Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
Arias for Cleopatra
from Giulio Cesare in Egitto [1724) HWV 17
1. Ouverture [2:42]
2. Aria Tutto può donna vezzosa [4:57]
3. Recitativo Taci! Che fia? [1:47]
4. Aria V’adoro, pupille [5:06]
5. Recitativo Esser qui deve in breve [0:34]
6. Aria Venere bella [5:03]
7. Recitativo accompagnato Che sento? Oh dio! [0:49]
8. Aria Se pieta di me non senti [9:08]
9. Aria Per dar vita all’idol mio [3:58]
10. Sinfonia bellica [1:11]
11. Recitativo E pur così in un giorno [0:37]
12. Aria Piangerò la sorta mia [6:29]
13. Aria Troppo crudeli siete [6:21]
14. Recitativo accompagnato Voi che mie fide nacelle [1:42]
15. Recitativo Forzai l’ingresso a tua salvezza, o cara! [0:45]
16. Aria Da tempeste il legno infranto [5:54]
17. Sinfonia [2:45]
18. Recitativo Bellissima Cleopatra [0:43]
19. Duetto Caro! Bella! [4:57]
Natalie Dessay (soprano) – Cleopatra; Sonia Prina (contralto) – Giulio Cesare; Stephen Wallace (counter-tenor) – Nireno
Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm
rec. Notre Dame du Liban, Paris, 6, 8, 10-13 November 2010
Sung texts with English, French and German translations enclosed
VIRGIN CLASSICS 50999 907872 2 5 [65:32]

Cleopatra’s part in Giulio Cesare must be one of the toughest roles in opera literature – but also one of the most grateful. Handel seems to have been uncommonly inspired when he wrote her arias, which says a lot. He was the true professional who rarely produced anything second-rate but far more often surpassed his generally high level. This opera is certainly inspired from beginning to end and is regarded by many not only as Handel’s best opera but the best opera seria ever.

On this disc Natalie Dessay sings eight arias for Cleopatra plus some recitatives to put the arias in context. These are not all the arias Handel wrote for her. In the first act there are another two besides: Tutto può: Non disperar and Tu la mia stella. On the other hand Dessay includes two arias that Handel wrote but replaced with those normally heard today. Thus Se pietà is followed by Per dar vita, which was Handel’s first thought for that particular scene. He then reworked Per dar vita as the aria for Sesto in the last act. Troppo crudeli (tr. 13) is interesting to hear. It’s a good piece of music but Handel knew a winner when he had composed Piangerò for the third act and it is probably the best known aria in the whole opera.

Emmanuelle Haïm is one of today’s foremost experts on baroque music and together with Le Concert d’Astrée she has built up an impressive discography, which has met with universal acclaim. They play here at pitch A=415 Hz and produce a biting yet transparent sound, demonstrated on their own in a fresh and springy overture, a properly warlike Sinfonia bellica and superb French horns in the sinfonia that precedes the last scene.

The qualities of Natalie Dessay are well known by now and she is in excellent voice here. Her technical command is something to be taken for granted but still there are copious opportunities to marvel at her virtuosity. Da tempeste il legno infranto is as good an example as any.

But Handel doesn’t only require drama and flair, he also demands beauty of tone. Ms Dessay has that as well – and in abundance. Just listen to V’adoro, pupille! So ravishingly beautiful! Piangerò, the noblest of Handel’s arias and is sung here with warmth and sadness, while the fast middle section, where she expresses her wish to trouble the tyrant night and day with her ghost, is intensely vitriolic. The da capo section is stylishly embellished – as in all the arias. A masterly reading.

She is well partnered by Sonia Prina’s Cesare. The Italian contralto has made Handel something of a speciality. Her homepage lists fourteen Handel operas and among them she has sung Giulio Cesare in Lille under the baton of Emmanuelle Haïm. Natalie Dessay and Sonia Prina are nicely contrasted in the final duet.

Giulio Cesare brims over with wonderful music and no opera lover – bar those who can’t stand baroque music – should be without a complete recording. There are several to choose from. But as a complement to that recording this disc is highly attractive.

Göran Forsling

This disc is highly attractive.