Magazine article Opera Canada

Opera at Home: Reviews of CDs and DVDs

Magazine article Opera Canada

Opera at Home: Reviews of CDs and DVDs

Article excerpt

ALCINA

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL

Archiv: 477 7374

2009 marks the 250th anniversary of Handel's death. In celebration of his theatrical genius, new recordings of his operas have been appearing in small but regular installments, including two new, rather uneven sets from Archiv.

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Given the richness of its musical invention, it is not surprising that Alcina, based on Ariosto's once-popular Orlando furioso, was one of Handel's greatest operatic triumphs. Premiered on April 16, 1735, it ran for 18 performances during its first season alone. It is well represented in the catalogue, with the title role's dangerously beautiful sorceress sung by the likes of Joan Sutherland (in a historic 1962 recording for Decca) and Renee Fleming (in a more recent full-throated recording for Erato). This new release could have provided serious competition with Joyce DiDonato in the title role, except for weakness in some secondary roles. Casting a high mezzo as Alcina may raise eyebrows, but the stunning American is triumphant. She is one of the few artists these days who appear to care much about the meaning of words. She bites into the text of both recitatives and arias with conviction, giving each word its full dramatic intent. Couple her performance with that of the radiant Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin (herself an enviable Alcina) as Alcina's sister, Morgana, and you have a formidable duo. Gauvin's effortless and plush soprano is put to good use in her arias, notably "O s'apre al riso" in Act I and "Credete al mio dolore" in Act III.

Alan Curtis leads II Complesso Barocco in a stylish, but polite, performance that largely forsakes the drama. With few extremes in tempo or pulse, there is a numbing predictability to the performance as a whole. Few, if any. risks are taken. Apart from DiDonato, Gauvin and, to a lesser degree, tenor Kobie van Rensburg (Oronte). the cast is restrained to the point of blandness. Italian contralto Sonia Prina, a far-from-feminine Bradamante, has impressive technique and breath control (listen to her bravura account of" Vorrei vendicarmi" in Act II), but she could, as they say, be singing the telephone book. The same can be said of Spanish mezzo Maite Beaumont's colorless Ruggiero, who wanders listlessly though Handel's "Verdi prati" ("Verdant meadows") seemingly unaware of its pastoral beauties. As for Laura Cherici's girlish. Boy George account of the youth Oberto. enough said.--Neil Crory

EZIO

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL

Archiv: 477 8073

Handel's three-act opera seria, Ezio, was first performed Jan. 15, 1732, at the King's Theatre in London, ran for only five performances and was never revived during the composer's lifetime. While Dorothea Schroder attempts to make a case for the work in her notes for this recording, the opera and performance fall considerably short of hopes and expectations.

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Italian contralto Sonia Prina is pallid as the Roman emperor Valentiniano, failing to paint a portrait of a feared, imperious tyrant. Her coloratura, while accomplished and clearly articulated, remains oddly lifeless and sometimes crude in its effect. Swedish soprano Ann Hallenberg, as Valentiniano's general, Ezio (a role written for the legendary castrato, Senesino), fares somewhat better. But still she fails to project an image of the formidable general who conquered the armies of Attila the Hun. Her elegant aria. "Pensa a serbarmi, o cara," with its beautiful decorated da capo, however, is sung with considerable finesse. Youthful Italian tenor Anico Zorzi Giustiniani betrays his age and is completely miscast in the role of the vengeful, authoritarian Massimo. Norwegian mezzo Marianne Andersen sings elegantly as Valentiniano's sister. Onoria, while Italian bass Vito Priante (Varo) is the picture of masculine suavity.

The star of the recording, however, is Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin as Fulvia, her elegant, poised singing seeming to get better with each new recording. …

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