More than 25 years have elapsed since Sigiswald Kuijken made his acclaimed recording of Handel’s opera Alessandro. Since then, performances on period instruments have become more technically assured and singers more fluent in accommodating stylistic issues. This new live recording from the Karlsruhe Händel-Festspiele reflects only some of these advances and
the soloists are mostly no match
for Kuijken’s excellent team.
Handel completed Alessandro in April 1726 and performed it at London’s Haymarket Theatre in the following month. It was the first of five operas in which he catered for the rival prima donnas Faustina Bordoni (Roxana) and Francesca Cuzzoni (Lisaura). The cast also included the great castrato Senesino. Librettist Paolo Rolli treats Alexander the Great’s Macedonian invasion more or less heroically, but there is an element of irony, too, in his amorous vacillation between Scythian princess and Persian slave-girl. War and love are principal themes, with Alexander demonstrating greater success with the former than the latter.
Countertenor Lawrence Zazzo is well known to Handelians and his handling of the title role, though sometimes underpowered, is expressive and technically secure. Soprano Raffaella Milanese (Lisaura) is the casting’s biggest disappointment. Her lurching declamation and exaggerated emphasis make little appeal in this context, shortcomings which are thrown into relief by soprano Yetzabel Arias Fernández (Roxana), who is undoubtedly the star of the show. Her arias ‘Un lusinghiero dolce pensieroso’ (Act I), anticipating Morgana’s ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’ (Alcina), nine years later, and ‘Brilla nell’alma’ (Act III) are delivered with virtuosity.
A mixed pleasure. If you have the older version, stick with it.