Ruby Hughes / Laurence Cummings

Handel's Last Prima Donna: Giulia Frasi in London

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The idea of performing and recording Handel's music with a focus on the singers who performed it originally is not new, but this release from soprano Ruby Hughes has several novel features. First is that the Handelian prima donna involved, Giulia Frasi, is not one who has been much examined before. She moved to London around 1740 and impressed Handel, who chose her for the premieres of his later oratorios (although not Messiah). Second, Frasi's career continued well after Handel's wound down, and Hughes and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Laurence Cummings cover its later phases here, in the process unearthing some quite rare music from England in the middle and later 18th century. For many listeners these will be the highlights, especially the oratorio excerpts of John Christopher Smith (Paradise Lost, 1760, and Rebecca, 1761). Smith, Thomas Arne, and Vincenzo Ciampi certainly labored under Handel's shadow, but sample the substantial selection from Philip Hayes' masque Telemachus, which takes wing as Handel's slow arias often do. The Handel arias performed are also not terribly common ones. Frasi specialized in pure, virtuous heroines (although she took on the role of Eve in a Smith composition), and Hughes, with a voice not large but very attractive, seems to enter into her personality rather than simply using the arias as technical springboards. A must for Handel enthusiasts and for those interested in what happened to English music in the next generation.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Susanna, HWV 66
1 8:16
Adriano in Siria
2 8:37
Il trionfo di Camilla
3 4:42
Artaxerxes
4 2:24
Paradise Lost
5 1:02
6 5:48
Rebecca
7 1:32
8 4:54
Alfred
9 6:49
Theodora, HWV 68
10 0:56
11 0:33
12 4:05
13 1:35
14 0:31
15 3:22
Telemachus
16 8:06
The Choice of Hercules, HWV 69
17 2:46
Jephtha, HWV 70
18 0:41
19 5:40
Solomon, HWV 67
20 5:49
blue highlight denotes track pick