Another triumph for Joyce DiDonato
J. Luis Juarez Echenique | Mexico City | 04/27/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Alcina, Giulio Cesare, Ariodante and Orlando are Handel's greatest operas, and thanks to Alan Curtis and a quite formidable cast, here we have a winner. Alcina has been lucky on records, it was the first Handel opera to be recorded both with famous stars and with all the roles sung in the original registers, the 1961 DECCA recording with Sutherland, Berganza and Freni; then EMI gave us in 1985 the first recording with period instruments, and some 10 years ago ERATO was at hand in Paris to record some memorable performances at the Palais Garnier with both, opera stars and period instruments, boasting Renée Fleming, Susan Graham and Natalie Dessay in the leading roles and the exquisite musicians of Les Arts Florissants under William Christie in the pit. It was the hottest ticket in Paris at the time and listening to the recording you will see why. The new Archiv recording, much better than the Rodelinda with the same team, is a good match for the ERATO version. Joyce DiDonato, surprisingly singing soprano, is glorious in the title role. Her Alcina is memorable as an interpretation and as a piece of magnificent singing. I'm sure, in years to come, this recording will be cited as some of DiDonato's finest work. Less well known is Maite Beaumont, but she sings a virile and secure Ruggiero, perhaps not as individual as Susan Graham, but very good indeed. Karina Gauvin covers herself in glory in "Tornami a vagheggiar", not even Joan Sutherland would dare to steal the aria from her. Il Complesso Barocco is as stylish and elegant as ever, and Alan Curtis obviously loves the piece. Some think that the ERATO recording is too slow, and are uncomfortable with the opulent tones of Renée Fleming, but I think that William Christie, being the great opera conductor that he is, knows better than anyone how to work the drama of the piece. His conducting is a little more passionate and taut than Curtis', and it must be remembered: it is a live recording, with the pros and cons that come with it. I love both recordings and feel lucky to own them both. You should own at least one."
Curtis and his crew have outdone themselves again!
Baroque and opera freak | Hong Kong | 05/21/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This being the Handel commemoration year, we Handel lovers are really being bathed in bliss with all these new Handel recordings, and we were also treated to the re-release in one box of six spectacular earlier recordings of Handel's operas by Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco on Virgin Classics -- the oldest going back 30 years!. Having spent the last couple of days listening in amazement to some of those earlier recordings, I could not resist putting on the new Alcina recording as soon as it arrived. I really didn't think that it would be possible for Curtis to do even better than his recent recording of Tolemeo, which (with Gauvin and Hallenberg) certainly outdid his already excellent previous recording of Floridante (with the all-star cast of Mijanovic, DiDonato, Invernizzi, Rostorf-Zamir and Priante). But on my first listening of Alcina, first of all it was obvious that this is the best performance that DiDonato has ever done -- she has finally fully found her ideal persona. And it may well be Gauvin's finest performance to date as well. The rich brightness of the sound comes right out of the HiFi and into your listening space as if the singers (and the musicians) were actually right there in your living room. Maite Beaumont -- a name totally new to me -- is also absolutely superb. And so is another new discovery -- the tenor Kobie van Rensburg. And helped by the fact that this is one of Handel's finest operas, the whole recording just reverberates with the consummate sound of an obvious all-time classic recording. People will still be listening to this in a hundred years -- though I won't be around to enjoy the verification of my prediction. That's OK -- I WILL be around to verify my prediction that it will win Opera Recording of the Year. While there are many great Handelian musicians, and quite a few great Handel conductors, it is obvious that Curtis has snatched the first prize in the competition to make the best recordings in this glorious 250th-anniversary Handel year. And now our next treat is Ezio! You will not believe DiDonato on this recording, who steals the stage even from Renee Fleming's recording of the same part."
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 03/16/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I don't have time just now to re-listen to this excellent recording and I can't review it in detail without having it fresh in my mind. I merely want to state that it's the best performance of Handel's "Alcina" I've ever heard, either on a recording or live. The whole cast is not only superb of voice, but they all sing with the same highly consistent technique. That separates this recording from the older one by Bill Christie, on which Renée Fleming sang the lead role as if she had learned music as a different language from the others.... which, in fact, she had. If one singer on this 3-CD recording steals the show, by the way, it is Sonia Prina, but Joyce Di Donato has all the arts of a superb baroque soprano: 1) the ability to sing a straight and lovely tone at any dynamic and with accurate pitch; 2) grace! and flexibility over the faster passages and ornamentations.
And then there's the orchestra, Il Complesso Barocco, conducted by Alan Curtis! This, amici miei, is baroque instrumentalism that makes sense to the ears.
I've just written a review, probably a controversial one, of the 1959 recording of Alcina featuring Joan Sutherland. I said in that review that although Sutherland's performance deserved historical kudos, it is unlistenable now, when really fine performances are available. A major problem with that old recording is the ponderous romantic orchestra. You can hear "samples" of both recordings here on the amazon, and thus you can either confirm or vehemently reject my evaluation."