Handel: The Rival Queens: opera arias and duets

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: The Rival Queens: opera arias and duets
PERFORMER: Catherine Bott, Emma Kirkby (soprano)Brandenburg Consort/Roy Goodman
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66950
The title is irresistible, and the compilation is clever. This disc includes duets and arias from the five operas – Alessandro, Admeto, RiccardoPrimo, Siroe and Tolomeo – that Handel wrote for the last three seasons of his opera company, the Royal Academy of Music, from 1726 until 1729. It was a time when those real-life rival queens

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(they were known by that label), the sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, trod the boards in the King’s Theatre, Haymarket. It is by no means all jealous fury either. As one would expect of a composer of such subtle insight into character, there are other carefully nuanced emotions in this music. The arias ‘Aure, fonti’ (sung by Emma Kirkby as Rossane) and ‘Che tirannia d’amor’ (Catherine Bott as Lisaura), both from Alessandro, are among Handel’s loveliest creations, while Antigona’s

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aria ‘La sorte mia vacilla’ (Bott) from Admeto, re di Tessaglia expresses hope, joy and fear within a single span. The voices contrast well in terms of colour, and their owners, as well as the Brandenburg Consort under Roy JE Goodman, perform this wonderful music with style and intense sense of affection. Stephen Pettitt