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Opéra baroque 
see end of review for details
rec. various locations; 1983-2011
HARMONIA MUNDI HMX2908658-99 [39 CDs + 3 DVDs + CD-ROM: c.46:00:00]

It's that time of year again: classical record labels have started releasing a plethora of box sets to tempt you in your Christmas shopping. With sets of dozens of CDs costing what only a few discs set you back ten years ago, how can you resist? It's tempting to buy some of these to fill in gaps in your collection. Others may contain many items that you've long wanted. It's hard to decide which to buy, with so many bargain-priced sets around.
 
Adding to the temptation this year is Harmonia Mundi's Opéra baroque: 39 CDs, 3 DVDs and one CD-ROM with sung texts. Divided into groups by country, this set contains music from Italy, France, England and Germany. There are seventeen complete operas ranging in length from single-CD works like Dido and Aeneas to three-disc operas, such as Handel's Rinaldo or Rameau's Les Indes Galantes. Two are on DVD: Monteverdi's L'Orfeo and Handel's Giulio Cesare. All this for roughly what I paid for one of these three-disc operas ten years ago.
 
It's fair to say that Harmonia Mundi has one of the finest catalogues of baroque opera, with an extraordinary roster of musicians and conductors. This collection highlights the work of William Christie and René Jacobs, the label's most prolific conductors, and has a list of soloists that includes Andreas Scholl, Sandrine Piau, Mark Padmore, Lorraine Hunt, Werner Gura, Simon Keenlyside, Lynne Dawson and many others.
 
Each country's selection of works is grouped with a small booklet discussing the works featured. While there are some high-profile works in this set - Lully's Atys, Handel's Rinaldo, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas - there are also some works that may be new to many listeners. These include Keiser's Croesus, Scarlatti's La Griselda, Telemann's Orpheus and Campra's Idoménée.
 
I've had great pleasure dipping into this set. While I already own about one third of the recordings, there are many that I wasn't familiar with, making this a delightful discovery. At less than £60, it's a steal; and it's a limited edition, so make up your mind quickly.
 
My only criticism relates to the packaging. Back in the early days of big box sets, these packages were designed to look imposing. They had big jewel cases and took up a lot of space. In recent years, most labels have released big sets with simple cardboard sleeves to save space. Harmonia Mundi has opted here for digipacks, which more than double the amount of space these discs would have taken up had simpler sleeves been used. The content could easily fit in one of those now-common cube-shaped boxes.
 
Now that many of us own a lot of box sets, it's a bit irksome to have another one that's so big. However, if you're buying it as a gift for someone, it will take up a lot of space under the tree.
 
Harmonia Mundi should be congratulated for this set. At a bargain price, it features some of the staples of baroque opera, along with a number of recordings that have been long out of print. As a primer, to those new to the genre, it's a perfect way to discover the richness of the baroque stage. For collectors, it's a great way to fill in gaps in a collection. For anyone, it's a wonderful box-full containing more than 45 hours of musical surprises. Don't miss out on this one.
 
Kirk McElhearn
Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just music on his blog Kirkville.
 
Full list of performers 
Blow Venus and Adonis
Rosemary Joshua (Venus), Gerald Finley (Adonis), Robin Blaze (Cupid), Maria Cristina Kiehr (Shepherdess), Christopher Josey (Shepherds/Huntsman)
Clare College Chapel Choir, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/William Christie
 
Campra Idoménée
Monique Zanetti (Ilione), Bernard Deletre (Idomenee), Sandrine Piau (Electre), Jean-Paul Fouchecourt (Idamante), Marie Boyer (Venus), Jerome Correas (Eole/Neptune/La Jalousie/Nemesis),Richard Dugay (Arcas), Mary Saint-Palais (Une Cretoise), Anne Pichard (Premiere Bergere), Anne Mopin (Une Troyenne/Deuxieme Bergere), Jean-Claude Sarragosse (Arbas/Protee)
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
 
Cavalli La Calisto
Marcello Lippi (Giove), Simon Keenlyside (Mercurio), Maria Bayo (Calisto), Graham Pushee (Endimione), Alessandro Mantovani (Diana), Gilles Ragon (Linfea), Dominique Visse (Il Satirino/Furia), Barry Banks (Pane), David Pittsinger (Silvano), Sonia Theodoridou (Giunone), Judith Vindevogel (Furia)
Concerto Vocale/René Jacobs
 
Charpentier, M-A 
Médée
Lorraine Hunt (Médée), Mark Padmore (Jason), Bernard Deletré (Créon), Monique Zanetti (Créuse) & Jean-Marc Salzmann (Oronte)
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
 
Le Malade imaginaire
Monique Zanetti, Noemi Rime, Claire Brua, Dominique Visse, Howard Crook, Jean-Francois Gardell
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
 
Erlebach Overture No. 4
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
 
Graun, C H Cleopatra e Cesare
Janet Williams (Cleopatra), Iris Vermillion (Cesare), Lynne Dawson (Cornelia), Robert Gambill (Tolomeo), Ralf Popken (Arsace), Jeffrey Francis (Lentulo), Klaus Hager (Achilla), Elisabeth Scholl (Cneo), Maria Cristina Kiehr (Sesto)
RIAS Kammerchor, Concerto Köln/René Jacobs
 
Handel
 
Rinaldo
Vivica Genaux (Rinaldo), Inga Kalna (Armida/Second Siren), Miah Persson (Almirena/First Siren), Christophe Dumaux (Eustazio), James Rutherford (Argante), Lawrence Zazzo (Goffredo), Dominique Visse (A Christian Magician)
Freiburger Barockorchester/René Jacobs
 
Flavio
Jeffrey Gall (Flavio), Derek Lee Ragin (Guido), Lena Lootens (Emilia), Bernada Fink (Teodata), Christina Högman (Vitige), Gian Paolo Fagotto (Ugone), Ulrich Messthaler (Lotario)
Ensemble 415/René Jacobs
 
Giulio Cesare in Egitto (two DVDs)
Andreas Scholl (Giulio Cesare), Inger Dam-Jensen (Cleopatra), Randi Steene (Cornelia), Tuva Semmingsen (Sesto), Christopher Robson (Tolomeo), Palle Knudsen (Achilla) & James Huw Jeffries (Nireno)
Concerto Copenhagen/Lars Ulrik Mortensen
 
Almira Suite
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
 
Keiser
 
Croesus
Dorothea Roschmann (Elmira), Werner Gura (Atis), Roman Trekel (Croesus), Klaus Hager (Orsanes), Johannes Mannov (Cyrus), Markus Schafer (Eliates), Salome Haller (Clerida), Kwangchul Youn (Solon), Graham Pushee (Halimacus), Brigitte Eisenfeld (Trigesta), Kurt Azesberger (Elcius), Johanna Stojkovic (Nerillus), Jorg Gottschick (Hauptmann)
RIAS Kammerchor, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Solistes du Knabenchor Hannover/René Jacobs
 
Le Ridicule Prince
Jodelet Sinfonia
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
 
Lully Atys
Guy de Mey, Guillemette Laurens, Agnès Mellon, Jean-François Gardeil, Jacques Bona, Bernard Deletré, Isabelle Desrochers, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt,Véronique Gens, Michel Laplénie, Stephan Maciejewski, Gilles Ragon, Noémi Rime, Françoise Semellaz, Arlette Steyer & Monique Zanetti
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
 
Monteverdi 
L'Orfeo (DVD)
Simon Keenlyside (Orfeo), Juanita Lascarro (Euridice, la Musica, Eco), Graciela Oddone (la Messaggiera), Martina Dike (Proserpina), Stephen Wallace (la Speranza, Pastore), Tomas Tòmasson (Plutone), Paul Gérimon, Caronte (Pastore), Mauro Utzeri (Apollo), Anne Cambier (Ninfa), Yann Beuron, John Bowen, René Linnenbank (Pastori, Spiriti
Concerto Vocale, Collegium Vocale Gent, Trisha Brown Company/René Jacobs
 
L'incoronazione di Poppea
Danielle Borst (Poppea), Guillemette Laurens (Nerone), Axel Köhler (Ottone), Jennifer Larmore (Ottavia), Michael Schopper (Seneca), Lena Lootens (Drusilla), Dominique Visse (Nutrice), Christoph Homberger (Arnalta), Maria-Cristina Kiehr (Damigella/Virtù)
Concerto Vocale/René Jacobs
 
Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda
Concerto Vocale/René Jacobs
 
Purcell Dido and Aeneas
Lynne Dawson (Dido), Rosemary Joshua (Belinda), Susan Bickley (Sorceress), Gerald Finley (Aeneas), Dominique Visse (First Witch), Stephen Wallace (Second Witch), Maria Cristina Kiehr (Second Woman), Robin Blaze (Spirit)
Clare College Chapel Choir, Members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/René Jacobs
 
Rameau Les Indes Galantes
Claron McFadden (Hebe, Zima), Sandrine Piau (Zaire), Isabelle Poulenard (L'Amour, Phani), Noemi Rime (Fatime), Miriam Ruggeri (Emilie), Howard Crook (Valere/Damon), Jean-Paul Fouchecourt (Don Carlos/Tacmas), Jerome Correas (Bellone/Ali), Bernard Deletre (Huascar/Don Alvar), Nicolas Rivenq (Osman/Adario)
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
 
Rore Ancor che co'l partire
Hilliard Ensemble/Paul Hillier
 
Scarlatti, A La Griselda
Dorothea Roschmann (Griselda), Lawrence Zazzo (Gualtiero), Veronica Cangemi (Costanza), Bernard Fink (Roberto), Silvia Tro Santafe (Ottone), Kobie van Rensburg (Corrado)
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/René Jacobs
 
Schieferdecker Premier Concert musicaux
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
 
Schürmann, G C Suite Ludovicus Plus
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
 
Telemann Orpheus
Dorothea Roschmann (Orasia), Roman Trekel (Orpheus), Ruth Ziesak (Eurydice), Maria Cristina Kiehr (Ismene), Werner Gura (Eurimedes), Isabelle Poulenard (Cephisa), Hanno Muller-Brachmann (Pluto), Axel Kohler (Ascalax)
RIAS Kammerchor, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Solistes du Knabenchor Hannover/René Jacobs
 
Vecchi L'Amfiparnaso
Ensemble Clément Janequin/Dominique Visse 


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