This album has a lot going for it. It includes two of the arias Handel originally composed for Cleopatra but excised before the premiere; the orchestra plays beautifully and with spirit; and Natalie Dessay has a gorgeous and marvelously flexible voice she uses with taste and fine musicianship. So why not give it five stars?
There are several factors. First, as has been pointed out elsewhere, the album does not include ALL of Cleopatra's arias, and there's no reason why it couldn't have. There is enough time left on the CD to include the two missing numbers, and even if not, we didn't need another performance of the opera's overture. This is not a cohesive recital program that requires a musical introduction; it's a compilation of Cleopatra's arias, and that's really all we need.
Second, while Ms. Dessay has ample vocal charms, her notion of ornamenting a da capo aria is strange. In far too many instances, she doesn't decorate Handel's vocal line; she rewrites it, simply changing notes without any additional ornamental flourishes. There is a big difference between ornamenting a melody and blatantly rewriting it. Handel was one of the all-time consummate masters of melody, and his tunes don't need to be reconfigured.
Third, and some folks will consider this a niggling complaint, is that for all her vocal dexterity, Dessay does not possess a true trill. How serious a deficiency is this? Consider that in his 1723 treatise "Observations on the Florid Song," written in 1723 in Bologna and translated into English in 1743, Pier Francesco Tosi wrote, "Who [lacks a trill], or has it imperfectly, will never be a great singer, let his knowledge be ever so great."
Still, the album does offer numerous musical pleasures, and it is worth acquiring for those deleted arias, if nothing else.