Richard Bonynge

Handel: Alcina; Giulio Cesare [Highlights]

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In the spring of 1735, Handel presented his newest opera, Alcina, to the citizens of London. This was one his most spectacular operas with one of the most demanding roles he ever wrote. This recording omits several arias completely and others are pared down to their first section. Other recordings, by Hickox and Christie, are more faithful to Handel's original version, but there is something very exciting about hearing truly great operatic voices giving their all in this music. Joan Sutherland first sang the role of Alcina in 1957 and continued to sing it until 1983. The role allows her to display her technical agility, the breath control on long phrases and her stunning trill. It must be admitted that her diction is not clean -- but what glorious singing. Teresa Berganza as Ruggiero is Sutherland's equal throughout the entire opera. Her approach is less overtly spectacular but her "Verdi prati" is an object lesson in classic vocalism. With a glorious contralto voice, Monica Sinclair attacks the role of Bradamante with gusto. The three octave scale which concludes her Act 1 aria is not stylistic, but it is exciting. In the shorter roles Mirella Freni and Graziella Sciutti are excellent. Freni was at the beginning of long and glorious career. The male roles are of less importance in this opera but they are very well sung by Luigi Alva and Ezio Flagello.

The third disc concludes with eleven arias from Giulio Cesare in Egitto with Joan Sutherland, Margreta Elkins, Marilyn Horne, Monica Sinclair and Richard Conrad. Recorded a year after the Alcina, these excerpts only hint at the beauties of this great score. Sutherland claims the lion's share with six arias. The embellishments in "Da tempesta" are invigorating and the pathos of "Piangero" is heart rending. Margreta Elkins as Cesare has two arias and she handles them with great aplomb. Monica Sinclair shows how much she relishes these great Handel arias. Marilyn Horne was at the start of a great career and displays great control in Cornelia's great aria. The New Symphony of London led by Richard Bonynge is very supportive and special mention should be made of the horn playing.

This recording is one of the earliest complete Handel recordings and helped to spark the Handel revival. Later recordings by Hickox and Christie use original instruments which is important to many listeners. Both recordings are more complete. If forced to choose between them, I would recommend the Hickox recording on EMI, but both have strong points. However, when I just want to sit down and enjoy Alcina I find that I return to this version most often.

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