William Christie / Cappella Coloniensis Chorus

Johann Adolf Hasse: Cleofide [Scenes and Arias]

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This disc offers highlights from the complete 1986 Capriccio recording of Hasse's 1731 opera Cleofide featuring William Christie leading Cappella Coloniensis. It's an entirely respectable performance, but it's characterized more by precision and propriety than by passionate involvement. The orchestra's crisp playing and Christie's stately tempos are musically correct, but the result sounds more like a fastidious reconstruction of a curious artifact than the hot-blooded drama that the libretto suggests, and which may in fact be present in the music, if it were given a less reserved reading. The vocalists each sing expressively and each solo is carefully shaped, but there is little sense of dramatic urgency. In general, the quality of the soloists is less impressive than the level of those of the early twenty-first century, who frequently bring truly spectacular voices and a sense of real dramatic understanding to Baroque opera. Emma Kirkby is the most persuasive in the title role; although her soprano isn't large, she sings with purity and focus. Male soprano Randall K. Wong and counter tenor Dominique Visse are also effective, with strong technique and free coloratura. Soprano Agnes Mellon and counter tenor Derek Lee Ragin sing well in their high register, but tend to lack support at the bottom of their range. The sound is clean, if a little shallow. This recording may be of strongest interest to fans of Hasse, but is unlikely to make believers of listeners who are skeptical of the vitality of Baroque opera.

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