F Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola di Alcina: the earliest opera by a woman composer

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LABELS: Glossa Cabinet
WORKS: La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola di Alcina
PERFORMER: Elena Biscuola, Mauro Borgioni, Gabriella Martellacci, Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli; Allabastrina, La Pifarescha/Elena Sartori


In October 2015, Susannah Waters staged the UK premiere of Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola di Alcina in the Brighton Early Music Festival, presenting a kiss-me-quick romp of erotic beguilement, feminine rivalry, bathing huts and inflatable sea monsters. Harpsichordist Elena Sartori’s new recording with the strings, recorders and lutes of Allabastrina and the cornetts, sackbuts, shawm and percussion of La Pifarescha continues the tradition of female advocacy of Alcina, the earliest opera by a woman composer.

The story of the besotted sorceress, familiar from Handel’s later opera, is plumped out in Caccini’s version by a decorative Prologue in which Neptune and the river Vistula serenade the Prince of Poland, in whose honour Alcina was commissioned by Maria Maddelena of Austria for the 1625 Florence Carnival. The sensitivity of Caccini’s word setting rings clear in this sober reading. The choral singing is clean and the instrumental ritornelli are shapely, with tart improvisations for percussion to illustrate Ruggiero’s disenchantment and to introduce Alcina’s monsters. Powerless against the righteous indignation of Gabriella Martellacci’s Melissa and the cooling ardour of Mauro Borgioni’s Ruggiero, Elena Biscuola’s Alcina is plangent in her sorrow. The nymphs and sailors sing prettily but Sartori’s tempos are cautious and unvaried. Falconieri’s ‘Battaglia del Barabasso’ and Magistro Rofino’s ‘Il cavalier di Spagna’ give a welcome kick to the finale.


Anna Picard