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Handel: Alcina Box set

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Audio CD, Box set, April 25, 2000
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

In celebration of 20 years of extraordinary music making, William Christie and Les Arts Florissants have completed what promises to be the definitive recording of Handel's rarely heard materpiece. An assemblage of top international artists in the leading roales include young American divas Renee Fleming, soprano, and Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano partnered with French coloratura Natalie Dessay. Recorded live in Paris, this is flawless singing that does full justice to the virtuosic vocal lines.

Here it is: one of the year's most hotly anticipated opera recordings, made during an acclaimed live production in June 1999 at the Paris Opera, which more than lives up to the promise. Handel's operas--the center of his creative life before oratorios became the focus--have spent far too long in limbo awaiting rediscovery, which slowly started happening in the late '60s with works such as Giulio Cesare. But whether Handelian opera is still a novelty or you're already a rabid convert, this emotionally resonant, crisply played, superbly cast interpretation under William Christie and Les Arts Florissants is likely to shake up some of your ideas about the composer. On the surface, Alcina's Ariosto-based story about a sorceress whose spell is finally broken seems like the typically absurd fare of baroque opera. But as the story of misaligned loves unfolds in an incredible succession of some 28 arias, it's clear that these performers are reaching for deeper profundities present in Handel's music, so that Alcina really becomes a story of transformation in the fullest sense. And while Handel may have written for singers trained in ego but myopic to the larger artistic picture, the dream cast of divas gathered here seem to constantly be plumbing emotional truths--and how wonderfully they work as an ensemble, even through the pile-up of arias that is the score's substance. Just one example: consider how Renée Fleming makes Alcina's huge Act II aria "Ah! mio cor" a central epiphany and turning point of the opera. It defies belief that this is Susan Graham's first baroque opera, so rich is her variety of invention and deep her musicality as Ruggiero, the one to break free of Alcina's spell, while the spun-silk soprano of Natalie Dessay adds yet another color to the multitude of female voices that dominate here. Les Arts Florissants (taking an A pitch value of 415, for the record) play with constantly ravishing engagement, immediately apparent from the trill-happy overture. You don't want to miss this one. --Thomas May

Disc: 1
1. Alcina: Sinfonia
2. Alcina: Minuet
3. Alcina: Musette
4. Alcina: Atto 1, Scena I: Recitativo - Oh Dei! quivi non scorgo alcun sentiero! (Bradamante)
5. Alcina: Atto 1, Scena I: Aria - O s'apre al riso (Morgana)
6. Alcina: Atto 1, Scena II: Coro - Questo e il cielo de' contenti
See all 22 tracks on this disc
Disc: 2
1. Alcina: Atto II, Scena I: Arioso - Col celarvi a chi v'ama (Ruggiero)
2. Alcina: Atto II, Scena I: Recitativo - Taci, taci, codardo (Melissa) - Arioso - Qual portento mi richiama (Ruggiero)
3. Alcina: Atto II, Scena I: Recitativo - Ah, Bradamante! (Ruggiero)
4. Alcina: Atto II, Scena I: Aria - Pensa a chi geme d'amor (Melissa)
5. Alcina: Atto II, Scena II: Recitativo - Qual adio ingiusto contro me? (Bradamante)
6. Alcina: Atto II, Scena II: Aria - Vorrei vendicarmi (Bradamante)
See all 22 tracks on this disc
Disc: 3
1. Sinfonia
2. Atto III, Scena I: Recitativo - Voglio amar e disamar (Oronte)
3. Atto III, Scena I: Aria - Credete el mio dolore (Morgana)
4. Atto III, Scena I: Recitativo - M'inganna, me n'avveggo (Oronte)
5. Atto III, Scena I: Aria - Un momento di contento (Oronte)
6. Atto III, Scena II: Recitativo - Molestissimo incontro! (Ruggiero)
See all 22 tracks on this disc

Product Details

  • Performer: Renee Fleming, Susan Graham, Natalie Dessay, Kathleen Kuhlmann, Timothy Robinson, et al.
  • Orchestra: Les Arts Florissants
  • Conductor: William Christie
  • Composer: George Frideric Handel
  • Audio CD (April 25, 2000)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Format: Box set
  • Note on Boxed Sets: During shipping, discs in boxed sets occasionally become dislodged without damage. Please examine and play these discs. If you are not completely satisfied, we'll refund or replace your purchase.
  • Label: Erato Disques
  • ASIN: B00004NK26
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #117,870 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By J. Luis Juarez Echenique on April 25, 2000
Format: Audio CD
After giving us choice recordings of Handel' s Messiah, Orlando and Acis and Galatea, William Christie now turns his attention to Alcina, one of Handel's very best operas. For this great occasion he got some of the most famous divas of our time and it pays off handsomely. It really doesn't matter if Renee Fleming sounds more like a Strauss soprano, her ravishing voice is equally seductive in Handel, and she does give a great performance in the title role. Susan Graham is almost as good, even if she can't compare (no one can) with the young Teresa Berganza in the old Bonynge recording. Natalie Dessay sparks fireworks in her sensational coloratura aria "Tornami a vagheggiar" at the end of Act I. It seems she got the biggest applause of the evening. But it is the exquisite playing of Les Arts Florissants which deserves the highest praise. This is certainly one of the greatest opera recordings of the year.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Ed Beveridge on June 24, 2000
Format: Audio CD
This recording was always going to be a bestseller - the unfeasibly starry casting would see to that - and it really lives up to its billing. Alcina has wonderful arias in spades but it takes real musical imagination to bring them to life as William Christie and his soloists do here. Yes, he pushes the ritenuti to the limit, and yes, the ornamentation occasionaly lapses beyond the strictly tasteful. But how well the performance captures the themes of the opera: the brittle decadence of Alcina's court - and the misery and loneliness at the centre of it all. The frisson of a live performance adds to the excitement - and I am sure the applause went on for much longer than it did here. The orchestral sound is agreeably robust but bright and accurate. There are some smashing obbligati. The cast is, rightly, dominated by the eponymous sorceress. Renee Fleming thwarts all those who question her ability as a Handel singer (and there are enough of them) by bringing her rich, bright soprano, her flawless dynamic control, her deeply satisfying musicality and an edge of bravura to her music. Bravura is not the word for Natalie Dessay's dazzling Morgana, agreeably plush of tone, really thoughfully characterised and - of course - breathtakingly saucy in altissimo. Susan Graham sings gloriously too (with some occasional tuning problems) but perhaps her Ruggiero could go further in terms of character - Alcina is not the only one soul-searching in this piece. As for the rest, only praise, especially for Kathleen Kuhlmann's artless execution of her florid music and Juanita Lascarro's characterful Oberto. So - well worth having - unless you are the kind of handel lover who can't bear non-authentic Handelian singers. It's an intoxicating record of some memorable music theatre and a real treat.
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40 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. Halloran on May 13, 2000
Format: Audio CD
The operas of Handel are surely an acquired taste, the opera seria format seeming stiff and contrived to modern listeners. But if you develop an apetite for them, you may just find yourself becoming addicted. This new recording of "Alcina" could be just the ticket to start newcomers on the road toward falling in love with Handelian opera.
This is not the first complete recording of "Alcina." Two others, with Joan Sutherland and Arleen Auger in the title role, exist but are currently unavailable in the United States. However, this recording excels in making the characters human, the situations moving and valid, and the emotions palpable.
The first glory of the set is undoubtedly the singing of Renee Fleming in the title role. Her voice improves on her recorded predecessors by not only being exceptionally beautiful but irresistably sensuous as well. Her singing of Handel is a revelation, when her first aria is launched with a voice of fullness, warmth and creamy tone. This is no standard "period" soprano a la Emma Kirkby, but a real woman: Fleming believes in this character and her emotions, and makes her sympathetic to us. Her complete dramatic involvement make Alcina a living, breathing being, rather than a posturing cardboard nightingale.
Susan Graham is equally effective as Ruggiero, her voice as warm and beautiful as Fleming's. She may lack the full dramatic commitment to the character that Fleming has, but then Ruggiero is not as developed as Alcina. She does, however, contribute an exquisitely shaded and nuanced version of "Verdi prati.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 1, 2004
Format: Audio CD
First, in response to the reviewer below, this production _was_ done in the States: I saw it at the otherwise staid Lyric Opera of Chicago. I think it was done elsewhere, too.
Also, accepting that emotional response varies with every listener, I don't quite see how someone couldn't be incredibly moved by moments in this performance. First and foremost would be Fleming's 12-minute aria in act II, which has to be one of the most sublime da capo aria performances on record. Christie's tempi here are perfect to boot, and the orchestral sound that wonderful mix of suavity and clarity which Les Arts Florissants virtually owns in the early music business.
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