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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Arie per la Cuzzoni
1. Overture - Scipione (1726) [5.55]
2. Marcia - Scipione [1.26]
3. Recitative: Che sento? Oh Dio - Giulio Cesare (1724) [1.09]
4. Aria: Se pietà di me non senti - Giulio Cesare [7.39]
5. Aria: Scoglio d’immota fronte - Scipione [5.22]
6. Concerto - Ottone (1723) [2.44]
7. Aria: Ombre, piante, urne funeste! - Rodelinda (1725) [5.26]
8. Recitative: Non credo che sian finti - Siroe, re di Persia (1728) [0.27]
9. Aria: Or mi perdo di speranza - Siroe, re di Persia [4.34]
10. Aria: Non è più tempo - Tamerlano (1724) [2.53]
11. Overture- Tolomeo (1728) [3.27]
12. Ballo di Larve - Admeto (1727) [2.48]
13. Sinfonia - Scipione [1.29]
14. Sinfonia - Admeto [1.20]
15. Recitative: E tale Otton? - Ottone [1.17]
16. Aria: Falsa immagine - Ottone [6.01]
17. Aria: Se'l mio duol non è si forte - Rodelinda [5.46]
18. Sinfonia - Admeto [1.17]
19. Aria: Nò, più soffrir non voglio - Alessandro (1726) [3.58]
20. Aria: Torni omai la pace all’alma - Tolomeo [4.17]
Hasnaa Bennani (soprano)
Les Muffatti/Peter Van Heyghen
rec. February 2015 Begijnhofkerk, Sint-Truiden, Belgium
Songs texts in Italian with English translations
RAMÉE RAM1501 [69.27]

This disc features some of the arias that Handel wrote especially for the great Italian prima donna, the soprano Francesca Cuzzoni (1696-1778). They are sung here by French-Moroccan soprano Hasnaa Bennani.

It’s no surprise that Cuzzoni is being featured here as the colourful diva lifestyle of this fiery soprano reads like a soap opera. She achieved great fame of fairytale proportions. From her arrival in London in 1723 one could say that Cuzzoni was Handel’s muse. He created numerous star roles for her during her five year stay in the capital. Included here are arias from the Handel/Cuzzoni operas together with eight orchestral pieces taken from the same source.

Problems arose when in 1726 Handel’s impresario engaged Italian diva Faustina Bordoni (known as Faustina), a mezzo-soprano. Appearing together at the première of Alessandro Cuzzoni immediately saw Faustina as a rival. A few months later in 1727 during a performance of Bononcini’s opera Astianatte Cuzzoni and her co-star Faustina started fighting on stage and the performance was abandoned. Cuzzoni left for Europe returning to London in 1734. By then Handel was no longer writing for her and her presence did not make the same impression as during the first visit. Cuzzoni was imprisoned a number of times for debt and later it seems eked out an existence making buttons.

The most notable of those nine headline Handel roles for Cuzzoni were Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt in Giulio Cesare in Egitto, probably also the title role in Rodelinda and Lisaura in Alessandro co-starring with Faustina as Rossane and castrato Senesino in the title role. My standout track is the tormented Cleopatra’s Se pietà di me non senti from Giulio Cesare both for its glorious memorability and Bennani’s breathtaking rendition. Bright and appealing is the soprano’s lovely controlled line and her evident comfort in the high register. Clinging onto life’s hope Laodice’s affecting aria Or mi perdo di speranza from Siroe is a fine example of Bennani’s committed characterisation and assured control of ornamentation. From Ottone, impressive as Teofane who is repulsed by deception in Falsa immagine the soprano’s vibrato is noticeable but is used sparingly. In the title role from Rodelinda with Se'l mio duol non è si forte Bennani movingly expressing the pain of grief is another highlight. Only very occasionally does Bennani’s largely dependable tone threaten to become harsh and over-penetrating. Under the direction of Peter Van Heyghen, Les Muffatti provide Bennani with consistently sympathetic support. They play period instruments with an abundance of responsive style. In the Marcia from Scipione slight intonation difficulties demonstrate the challenges presented by using natural horns.

The sound quality is first class, clear with a pleasing balance between voice and orchestra. This is an attractively presented CD. The song texts are provided in the booklet in Italian with English translations. In addition there is a helpful essay from the pen of Peter Wollny in an English translation.

Arie per la Cuzzoni is an impressive Handel recital and is worthy of your attention.

Michael Cookson



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