Handel: Alcina

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About the Album

In celebration of 20 years of extraordinary music-making, William Christie and Les Arts Florissants have completed with promises to be the definitive recording of Handel's rarely heard masterpiece ALCINA. Christie has assembled a trio of top international stars in the leading roles. The young American divas Renée Fleming, soprano, and Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano in the trouser role of Ruggiero, are partnered with French coloratura Natalie Dessay. Recorded live in Paris, this is flawless singing that does full justice to Handel's richly virtuosic vocal lines.

Here it is: one of the year's most hotly anticipated opera recordings, made during an acclaimed live production in June 1999 at the Paris Opera, which more than lives up to the promise. Handel's operas--the center of his creative life before oratorios became the focus--have spent far too long in limbo awaiting rediscovery, which slowly started happening in the late '60s with works such as Giulio Cesare. But whether Handelian opera is still a novelty or you're already a rabid convert, this emotionally resonant, crisply played, superbly cast interpretation under William Christie and Les Arts Florissants is likely to shake up some of your ideas about the composer. On the surface, Alcina's Ariosto-based story about a sorceress whose spell is finally broken seems like the typically absurd fare of baroque opera. But as the story of misaligned loves unfolds in an incredible succession of some 28 arias, it's clear that these performers are reaching for deeper profundities present in Handel's music, so that Alcina really becomes a story of transformation in the fullest sense. And while Handel may have written for singers trained in ego but myopic to the larger artistic picture, the dream cast of divas gathered here seem to constantly be plumbing emotional truths--and how wonderfully they work as an ensemble, even through the pile-up of arias that is the score's substance. Just one example: consider how Renée Fleming makes Alcina's huge Act II aria "Ah! mio cor" a central epiphany and turning point of the opera. It defies belief that this is Susan Graham's first baroque opera, so rich is her variety of invention and deep her musicality as Ruggiero, the one to break free of Alcina's spell, while the spun-silk soprano of Natalie Dessay adds yet another color to the multitude of female voices that dominate here. Les Arts Florissants (taking an A pitch value of 415, for the record) play with constantly ravishing engagement, immediately apparent from the trill-happy overture. You don't want to miss this one.

Thomas May

Recording info

Release Date: April 14, 2000
Label: Erato
CD / Download: 1
ASIN: B00004NK26