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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bonynge or Christie? A feast of glorious Handel singing is provided by both
I own two superficially very different recordings of this lovely opera and thought it might be helpful to compare them, as both star the reigning Handel diva of their day. It was this role which introduced many to "La Stupenda" and Renee Fleming has made of point of keeping Handel in the forefront of her repertoire despite her forays into verismo.

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Published on 8 Jan 2012 by Ralph Moore

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite a dream team
Despite the period instruments of Les Arts Florrisants, Christie's recording of 'Alcina' has an oddly old fashioned feel about it. I think this is largely down to the casting. Seldom these days do we find a singer like Renee Fleming in a Handel opera recording. Her thick, rich and creamy tones will not be to everyone's taste and I'm not sure that they are to my own...
Published on 12 Dec 2008 by Iain C. Davidson


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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite a dream team, 12 Dec 2008
By 
Iain C. Davidson "iain1825" (Scotland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Handel: Alcina (Audio CD)
Despite the period instruments of Les Arts Florrisants, Christie's recording of 'Alcina' has an oddly old fashioned feel about it. I think this is largely down to the casting. Seldom these days do we find a singer like Renee Fleming in a Handel opera recording. Her thick, rich and creamy tones will not be to everyone's taste and I'm not sure that they are to my own! Generally speaking I love Fleming's voice but not here. She has some good moments but much of it is just too drawn out, self indulgent and wallowing in the beauty of her own sound. I also failed to be overly impressed with Susan Graham as Ruggiero. Graham's is a voice I can't seem to get excited about; there's nothing wrong with it - I just don't see what all the fuss is about, there are better Handelian mezzo sopranos out there.

The rest of the cast is generally fine. Natalie Dessay is caught before she started to become prone to self indulgence herself - her opening aria is just lovely! Kathleen Kuhlmann is a good, firm Bradamante, Laurent Naouri is a sonorous Melisso and Juanita Lascarro provides some of the best singing in the small role of Oberto. Timothy Robinson is OK as Oronte but there are better Handel tenors.

Stage noises do sometimes interfere but I didn't find it too damaging. The orchestra play delightfully but I find Christie inclined to drag things out too much sometimes. In short this is a decent recording. Other recordings of 'Alcina' have their own shortcomings and there is definitely room for new versions.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bonynge or Christie? A feast of glorious Handel singing is provided by both, 8 Jan 2012
By 
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Handel: Alcina (Audio CD)
I own two superficially very different recordings of this lovely opera and thought it might be helpful to compare them, as both star the reigning Handel diva of their day. It was this role which introduced many to "La Stupenda" and Renee Fleming has made of point of keeping Handel in the forefront of her repertoire despite her forays into verismo.

To label the 1962 Decca recording "grossly inauthentic" is a bit rich; people who dismiss it on the grounds of being old-fashioned remind me of those who claim sex was invented in the 1960's. Obviously there a few cuts and there is little HIP practice - how could there be? - but the spirit is right and it is blessed with an array of stellar voices accompanied most sensitively and intelligently by Bonynge directing a gorgeous-sounding LSO. Nonetheless, Christie's 1999 live account at the Paris Opera for Erato was also a great occasion and offers a complete, wholly satisfying, historically informed performance by the best Handel singers to be found at that time. The playing of Les Arts Florissants avoids period scratchiness and is in fact very elegant. The interesting thing about Christie's direction is that he confounds those who expect a period performance to be all Tiggerish bounce; he permits some daringly leisurely tempi to accommodate the creamy effulgence and emotive indulgence of Fleming's Alcina. This brings the two recordings, separated by nearly forty years, closer together in style than you might have thought.

I love both and wouldn't be without either - although I admit to succumbing more readily to the vocal glamour of the older cast than to the more sprightly delivery of Christie's performance. Both recordings feature singers with immensely characterful voices rich of tone, capable of hitting top notes without nudging, negotiating intricate runs without smudging and producing authentic trills without fudging.

The surprise of the earlier recording for me was the strength and assertiveness of Teresa Berganza's lower register in combination with wholly secure, shining top notes. She is the singer who most outshines her counterpart, good though Susan Graham is. In showpiece arias - of which there are so many in this miraculous opera - Berganza delivers more glamour than Graham who can sound - well - just ordinary, especially in the lower reaches of her voice around the repeated G. Try "Verdi prati" to hear what I mean; Berganza is far more alluring and voluptuous of tone here. Elsewhere, Graham is more satisfying and always firm and musical. Neither has a huge voice but I find Berganza more thrilling and overtly involving. There is little to separate the virtuosity of Kathleen Kuhlmann and Monica Sinclair as Bradamante; both are mightily impressive and convincing in what is for most of the opera a travestito role, as Bradamante is disguised as her own brother.

Both Sutherland and Fleming are every inch divas; the lower Baroque pitch helps the latter sound more at ease given the effulgence of her creamy voice, whereas the higher pitch helps Sutherland shine in her true Fach. It is a great bonus to have celebrated singers as Mirella Freni and Ezio Flagello is supporting roles; I like the extra heft Flagello brings to the role of Melisso with his treacly bass, whereas Naouri is more refined, if a tad bland. Both Graziella Sciutti and Natalie Dessay sing Morgana with distinction, but again, I find the older singer more winning, charming and vulnerable.

The clincher for some will be the provision of a 50 minute bonus of excerpts from "Giulio Cesare" recorded in 1963, starring Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Margreta Elkins and the formidable Monica Sinclair once again - plus one unfortunate aria from windy, tremulous tenor Richard Conrad as Sesto. Sutherland is a bit droopy but her diction is passable while her singing and ornamentation as sheer vocalisation are extraordinary.

"Alcina" and "Giulio Cesare" must be at the top of any list of Handel's best operas, being brimful of lovely melody and striking drama, so to have most of one and some of the other sung so superbly makes the earlier Decca recording very attractive but Christie's full version offers the obvious attraction of having three modern divas in a modern edition complying with the best of HIP practice. I want to be able to hear both these glamorous sets, as the mood takes me.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ceratainly the best recording to date of this beautiful work, 14 Mar 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Handel: Alcina (Audio CD)
This is a recording that grows on you more and more every time you listen to it; I've been with mine now for three weeks and I have to say, I find it the most satisfying, calming, and uplifting Handel recording I have ever heard. Christie takes things slowly, heart-stoppingly slowly at times, but it works really well. Flemming responds to the tempo perfectly: just listen to her "Ah! Mio Cor" on Disk 2 (all 12 minutes of it)- this is moving stuff. Dessay's remarkable coleratura is without doubt the star of the show, and her "Tornami a vagheggiar" which closes Act I was as much a hit with me as it clearly was with the live audience. The orchestra of Les Arts Florissants play with their customary dedication and elegance. I have no hesitation in recommending this wonderful (and most complete) recording of this remarkable work. Buy it!
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellence and style, 10 April 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Handel: Alcina (Audio CD)
What a wonderful recording! Having listened to a few, I would definately say this is the best. Fleming and Graham alone make this a recording worth having and the generous musicality both from the performers and orchestra makes you wish you had been there. Buy it and you won't regret it. Enjoy!
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Handel: Alcina
Handel: Alcina by William Christie (Audio CD - 2000)
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