Handel: Opera arias and overtures, 1729-41

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Opera arias and overtures, 1729-41
PERFORMER: Emma Kirkby; Brandenburg Consort/Roy Goodman
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67128
The soprano Anna Maria Strada was one of several Italian singers Handel recruited for his Royal Academy company in 1729 and the only one to stay with him when the rest defected to the rival Opera of the Nobility in 1733. Although their relationship apparently soured later (in 1737 her husband threatened Handel with prison for non-payment of her wages), Strada’s loyalty was rewarded with one of the 18th-century’s greatest operatic roles, Alcina – though the stream of exquisite arias Handel gave her from the outset suggests she was anyway an exceptionally versatile singer.

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For her latest Handel recital, Emma Kirkby has turned to the later operas and chosen nearly all arias written for Strada. They range from the fiery bravura of ‘Scherza in mar’ (Lothario) to the haunting voice-oboe duet of ‘Chi t’intende?’ (Berenice). Performances are fluent and stylish, though at times I longed for a touch of dramatic extravagance, and less English decorum: ‘Ombre pallide’, for example, surely needs to sound more desperate, more in extremis. Still, I hope this will not be the last of Kirkby’s Handel opera recordings: a disc of love-duets, headed by the gloriously sensuous ‘Per le porte’ from Sosarme, would be a prospect to savour. Graham Lock