Handel: Alcina

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Archiv
WORKS: Alcina
PERFORMER: Joyce DiDonato, Maite Beaumont, Sonia Prina, Karina Gauvin, Kobie Van Rensburg, Vito Priante, Laura Cherici; Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
CATALOGUE NO: 477 7374

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Written at the height of 18th-century London’s affair with French dance, Handel’s first magic opera was made for the sensation-seeking sophisticate. Men become beasts, streams and rocks. Mountains become palaces. Faithful lovers are traduced, vows broken, and malfunctioning magic wands are thrown to the floor in disgust. Fury and desire cascade from the mouths of the singers in torrents of semiquavers. But behind all the spectacular coloratura, supernatural effects and cross-dressing deceptions lies a simple truth: love hurts.

Here mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato brings firebrand fioritura (vocal embellishment), impeccably naturalistic recitative and an inimitable everywoman pathos to the soprano title-role. Rejected and powerless in Act III, her ‘Mi restano le lagrime’ displays a vulnerability and candour sufficient to make Renée Fleming’s Alcina of 2003 (with Les Arts Florissants) appear as blowsy as a B-movie vamp.

Sadly, the rest of Alan Curtis’s cast can’t match DiDonato’s technique or expressivity. Maite Beaumont’s Ruggiero delivers an elegant ‘Verdi prati’ but scoops untidily in ‘Sta nell’ircana’, while Sonia Prina’s Bradamante is a gusty battleaxe. Karina Gauvin’s Morgana lacks the flexibility of Natalie Dessay (again for Christie).

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The orchestral playing is stronger, with admirably close co-ordination between the violins and oboes, lovely recorder obbligati, and a vivacious realisation of the ballet, though the bassoon is perplexingly prominent throughout. Is one great vocal performance really enough to make a must-buy Alcina? I don’t think so. Anna Picard