Handel: Alcina

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Alcina
PERFORMER: Anja Harteros, Vesselina Kasarova, John Mark Ainsley, Veronica Cangemi, Sonia Prina, Deborah York, Christopher Purves; Bavarian State Orchestra/Ivor Bolton


One of Handel’s most popular operas is heard here in a live performance from Munich in 2005. There’s some stage noise and the sound is less kind to the voices than to the instruments, which come over in high-definition, but the varied and detailed orchestral playing is certainly a plus, as is Ivor Bolton’s conducting, which combines discipline with a sense of character. The chorus is inclined to be sluggish. Crucial to any recording of a Handel opera is the quality of the singing of the major roles, which turns out to be variable. As the sorceress of the title, the German soprano Anja Harteros can be expressive but at times she’s laid-back to the point of sounding languid. As her flighty sister Morgana, Veronica Cangemi sings prettily but her top register is erratic and her diction weak. As Bradamante, disguised as the warrior Ricciardo, the Italian mezzo Sonia Prina remains dramatically centred throughout. The most problematic performance is that of Vesselina Kasarova as Ruggiero, Bradamante’s lover, now in thrall to Alcina. There’s some technically fine singing – her runs are unimpeachable – but the tone is ungainly and even hooty. In less vital roles, John Mark Ainsley’s Oronte is vivid and sensitive where needed; Christopher Purves a trenchant Melisso, though a baritone rather than the ideal bass; and Deborah York pleasant as Oberto – a part Handel wrote, incidentally, for a boy treble. It’s not quite enough to add up to a strong recommendation, especially with better versions available. George Hall