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Handel -Tolomeo / Hallenberg, Gauvin, Bonitatibus, Basso, Spagnoli, Il Complesso Barocco, Curtis
George Frideric Handel, Alan Curtis, Il Complesso Barocco
Handel -Tolomeo / Hallenberg, Gauvin, Bonitatibus, Basso, Spagnoli, Il Complesso Barocco, Curtis
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (20) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (16) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (22) - Disc #3

Following highly acclaimed, award-winning recordings of Handel's Rodelinda and Floridante and Vivaldi's Motezuma, Alan Curtis and his Il Complesso Barocco bring another neglected Baroque jewel to life. Alan Curtis, the pio...  more »


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Following highly acclaimed, award-winning recordings of Handel's Rodelinda and Floridante and Vivaldi's Motezuma, Alan Curtis and his Il Complesso Barocco bring another neglected Baroque jewel to life. Alan Curtis, the pioneer of Baroque opera revivals and three-time winner of the German Record Critics Prize, works his magic on Handel's Tolomeo. Written in 1728, Tolomeo is a gripping story of revenge, lust, lost love and eventual reconciliation. It was the final opera created by Handel for the Royal Academy of Music in London, where it was premiered with a sensational cast led by one of the most famous singers of the day, the castrato Senesino. In this recording, Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco are joined by some of today's leading Handel singers headed by Ann Hallenberg as Tolomeo and also featuring Karina Gauvin, Anna Bonitatibus, Romina Basso and Pietro Spagnoli.

CD Reviews

Top-Notch Handel; Fills a Major Gap
Paul Van de Water | Virginia, USA | 03/17/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Alan Curtis's recording of Tolomeo is top-notch and fills a major gap in the Handel discography. (Although there is one previous recording, an Amazon reviewer calls it "possibly the worst opera recording I have ever heard.")

Now professor emeritus of musicology at Berkeley, Curtis helped kick off the modern renaissance of Handel operas with his complete recording of Admeto for EMI in 1977. That recording, which is still available on Virgin CD, starred Rene Jacobs, James Bowman, Max van Egmond, and other pioneers in historically informed performance. The band was Il Complesso Barocco, then comprised primarily of Dutch musicians.

Curtis didn't record any more Handel operas for many years afterwards, but recently he has more than made up for lost time. From his base near Florence, Curtis has reconstituted Il Complesso Barocco as a largely Italian ensemble (although cellist Richte van der Meer plays in both Admeto and Tolomeo). Since 1999, they have produced CDs of Arminio, Deidamia, Fernando, Floridante, Radmaisto, Rodelinda, and Rodrigo. Many of these are first recordings, and several have won awards. A DVD of Ariodante was released in February 2008, and Ezio is scheduled to be recorded in September 2008.

The Ptolemy of Tolomeo is not the character of the same name in Giulio Cesare but an earlier Egyptian ruler (whose mother, to add to the confusion, was another Cleopatra). The typically convoluted plot reaches its climax when Ptolemy drinks a poisoned cup, which turns out to contain only a sleeping potion. The work is "an almost pure aria opera" with only brief recitatives, and "many of these arias are very beautiful" (quoting Paul Henry Lang).

It's great to have Tolomeo available at last in a first-rate recording. Swedish mezzo Ann Hallenberg (Arsamene in Christophe Rousset's DVD of Serse) sings Ptolemy, and Anna Bonitatibus (Irene in Trevor Pinnock's Tamerlano) is his sister Elisa. The other soloists are equally capable, although less well known. Upon first hearing, I wouldn't classify Tolomeo as one of Handel's best operas, but I look forward to becoming better acquainted through repeated listening.

Paul N. Van de Water"
DAVID BRYSON | Glossop Derbyshire England | 03/30/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The libretto of Tolomeo is not as weighty as one might think at a first glance. As well as Ptolemy there is a (non-singing) Cleopatra involved, but these are not the most famous holders of these names. There is a dispute over the succession to the kingship of Egypt, but don't expect anything on the lines of Don Carlo. The issue is resolved in a remarkably, nay ridiculously, peaceable manner as part of a comprehensively happy ending of the kind that London audiences preferred. As for the rest, it is about as average an opera book as I know, with princes and princesses disguised, in the seemingly foolproof way, as shepherds and shepherdesses, and a gratifyingly wide gulf between fierce declarations of intent followed by astonishingly mild and tolerant actions.

Despite all this, Tolomeo lasts for two and a half hours, which is twice as long as La Boheme does. Myself, I would not want it shorter by a single second. There are very few special dramatic effects, mainly restricted to the penultimate scene when Ptolemy drinks what he thinks is poison but which turns out only to be some kind of micky finn, in line with the overall tone of the action. Nor is there much fancy orchestration. You will hear some horn tone in the overture but little or none later, one aria has flutes obbligati and another has a harp or theorbo, and that's about it. The orchestration is for strings and very little else, and I find that no more of a hardship than I do in Handel's concerti grossi, or in Beethoven's string quartets, or in Messiah itself. The truth is that Handel does not try to make this libretto and this story into something they are not. He knows better than to whip up ersatz drama, and instead lets the river of his purely musical inspiration run smoothly and placidly through one low-key incident after another. I followed the action conscientiously with the libretto, but in fact with each successive hearing I found I was taking less notice of it because the music is so marvellous. Nothing as long as Tolomeo could realistically be described as a secular cantata, but for all the real action there is in it that title would do very well. Handel can strike like a thunderbolt, as Mozart said, and there are any number of audacious effects in his oratorios let alone his stage dramas, but what Tolomeo actually put me in mind of was the Bach cantatas that I have been collecting recently.

Bach's style is contemplative with very little to it by way of a dramatic dimension, but where Handel seems to me to resemble him in this work is in letting his own limitless musical invention run without special tricks. The music of each aria is of course appropriate to the sentiments expressed, but you could say that of the Bach cantatas. As for characterisation, the truth is that I soon lost interest in who was who. The music was what kept my attention just as music. There are three alto parts, one soprano and a solitary male voice in the bass role of Araspe. One very striking difference between the styles of these two great Saxon masters is in their treatment of the voice. With Bach, as with Wagner, the inspiration goes primarily into the instrumental parts, but where Wagner is actually very considerate (whatever they tell you) in his vocal writing, Bach can give his singers parts that are extremely difficult because of their instrumental manner. In Handel's vocal writing not only do the voices predominate, the idiom fits the human voice like a glove. There is no choral work in the ordinary sense in Tolomeo, but the final number is, as in Siroe, a choral ensemble. There sound to be a lot more than five voices here, but I can find no further information in the liner.

All the soloists perform admirably in my own opinion. Nor have I any problems with the direction or the instrumentalists, as presumably will surprise nobody when these are the eminent specialists that they are. Likewise the recorded quality is clear and proportionate. The liner booklet is of the thorough and polyglot variety that we are accustomed to with operatic issues of this kind, and the English translation of the essay, by Stewart Spencer, is in genuine English, unlike many even now and apparently very unlike the strange English of Mr Handel himself, as recorded in many humorous reminiscences. Tolomeo is the mellifluous and charming Handel, familiar indeed from elsewhere but rarely for two and a half hours at a stretch without dramatic surprises. The two and a half hours are spread over three discs, one per act, and this seems to me much more satisfactory than trying to squeeze the production on to two cd's.

It seems that Tolomeo was never heard by human ear between 1733 and 1938. I have now heard it 5 or 6 times. This has been my chance, living in the technological era that I do. Applauda ognuno il nostro fato."
Another gem from Curtis & Il Complesso Barocco-
Todd Nolan | Seattle, WA USA | 04/11/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"As other reviewers mentioned, this is wonderful music performed beautifully by Curtis and his stellar group. The big three soloists, Ann Hallenberg (Tolomeo), Karina Gauvin (Seleuce) and Anna Bonitatibus (Elisa) are perfect for their roles, and have the majority of the prettiest arias: Elisa's 'Quell 'onda;' Seleuce's 'Mi Volgo' and 'Torni omai'; Tolomeo's first act 'Tiranni' and the climactic 'Stille amare' to those gorgeous, hushed strings. And the three duets for Seleuce & Tolomeo are also worthy of individual appearances on recital discs. But I would place more praise than others have on the spare appearance of Romina Basso (Alessandro). Even though she only has three solo arias, two of them are little jewels that I encored when I first heard them, and Basso is as good in them as she was in the Vivaldi Montezuma recording of '06.

While Hallenberg has been getting the plum roles that she deserves, I hope Karina Gauvin's lovely voice will get her even more recognition. Outside of the early music scene, I'm not sure the general opera audience knows how good she is (maybe I'm wrong, but whenever I ask Seattle audiences, I end up lending them a CD or two by way of introduction).

This is an easy recommendation for Handel fans, but I think people who may not be as fond of baroque operas might want to sample the gorgeous singing of this fine cast. While every Handel opera has a couple of arias that seem to make everything stop with their simple beauty, Tolomeo has several solos like that plus the three duets. And we hear from another reviewer that three more Handel operas are scheduled. Thank you Alan Curtis !"