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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does this Alcina lead the field?
Having been distinctly under-whelmed by Alan Curtis's account of Tolomeo, I was in two minds as to whether to buy this set at all.

There have been several previous recordings of this opera, most recently by Richard Hickox and William Christie. While both are good accounts of this work, I was always left feeling that something was missing. I didn't expect...
Published on 10 April 2009 by Paul C

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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Yes it's good, but there is just missing something...
I feel mean giving this recording only three stars - there really is so much to recommend it. In particular, Joyce DiDonato carries off the title role excellently, always sounding secure and powerful (where needed).

Somehow, though, this recording grates on me everytime I listen because of the slightly leaden pace of the orchestra and, at times, lack of dramtic...
Published on 24 Jun 2009 by L. Hunt


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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does this Alcina lead the field?, 10 April 2009
This review is from: Handel: Alcina (Audio CD)
Having been distinctly under-whelmed by Alan Curtis's account of Tolomeo, I was in two minds as to whether to buy this set at all.

There have been several previous recordings of this opera, most recently by Richard Hickox and William Christie. While both are good accounts of this work, I was always left feeling that something was missing. I didn't expect Curtis to add anything new to the debate but I was more than pleasantly surprised.

What I really like about this set is the sense of involvement by the cast members.

Recitatives are sung with real drama, just as they should be. They are paced very well throughout. One feels like one is listening to a performance rather than a recording.

Turning to the cast, the principal character in this opera is of course the sorceress Alcina herself.

It is therefore pleasing to report that Joyce DiDonato is magnificent in the title role and infuses her performance with real passion, not to mention vocal brilliance, throughout. This is a real star turn.

The rest of the cast is good, if unexceptional, although I particularly liked Kobie van Rensburg's clear tenor voice.

The decoration of the da capo sections of arias can often prove a sore point in recordings of opera seria, but here they generally seem well-judged and tasteful.

The orchestra is on fine form, although as is often the case with recordings by Curtis, I sensed a lack of variety of texture, perhaps more so in the ballet music.

I have already mentioned the dramatic power of this performance and a couple of particularly fine examples are worthy of mention.

The Act 3 trio is for me is the climax of the work. Alcina has seen her powers steadily dwindle and this is her last desperate throw of the dice. The challenge is that the music is inherently cheerful in mood; as the Handel scholar Winton Dean says this is no doubt a deliberate ploy by Handel to show that our hero and heroine hold all the cards. The singers therefore need to project the confrontational aspect of the situation for it to work. Curtis comes far closer than either Hickox or Christie to achieving that aim.

The accompagnato at the end of Act 2 is also superb; Curtis injecting the right sort of urgency into the opening chords and those that follow. This is perhaps the dramatic high-point of this recording.

In addition, the sound quality is superb - although that is to be expected from DG.

Criticisms are few and far between.

With such a well-wrought performance I sometimes longed for arias to spring from the preceding recitative without any pause. The gap is slightly too long for my liking in some places and it disrupts the build-up of tension in the moments leading up to the aria.

Most tempi are well-judged. That said, the overture lacks a certain vibrancy, probably due to the over-cautious choice of tempo for the fugal section.

However, the biggest miscalculation for me is Ruggiero's "Sta nell'ircana" which is too slow - it just doesn't sound like the showpiece aria Handel surely intended. The role of Ruggiero was created for the castrato Giovanni Carestini and when he first received the score he refused to sing "Verdi Prati" from Act 2. I can't help thinking that, had he heard this careful rendition of his big aria in Act 3, he may have refused it as well!

It's a pity, as Curtis can - and does - let rip on occasions and the results (eg "Ma quando tornerai") are thrilling.

Overall though this is a fine achievement and indeed may rank as one of the best Handel opera recordings on the market. I certainly think this is the best recording of Alcina I have heard and is not far from a "definitive" account - praise indeed! That said, with a few tweaks it could have been even better.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best so far?, 6 April 2009
By 
Iain C. Davidson "iain1825" (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Handel: Alcina (Audio CD)
Handel's 'Alcina' is generally regarded as one of his finest operas and has already been recorded more than most of his works. Now Alan Curtis and his forces have added it to his ever expanding Handel discography. I have never been entirely happy with any of the previous versions on disc and was looking forward to Curtis' interpretation, so is it the best so far? Well, it's not perfect - I think there is still room for that but on balance it may be the most consistent and recommendable.

For a start, Joyce diDonato is really good in the title role. I was a little unsure about this piece of casting - a mezzo soprano in a soprano role but she carries it off wonderfully, the tessitura seemingly holding no problems for her. She is also very dramatic - 'Ombre pallide' and the recitative preceeding it are terrific! In my opinion, hers is the best interpretation of the title role so far on disc. Maite Beaumont is also a very good Ruggiero with a light, sunny voice - she is especially good in the first act. I love Karina Gauvin's rich, creamy voice and she sings beautifully once more in this but I think I might have preferred a lighter voice for the flightly Morgana - she is good though! Vito Priante makes much of little in the bass role and Laura Cherici is lovely as the boy Oberto.

Curtis and I do not have the same taste in tenors; there is nothing wrong with Kobie van Rensburg's singing but I don't particularly like his somewhat abrasive tone. I was also a little disappointed in Sonia Prina's Bradamante although I usually like this singer. Curtis' band is a little smaller than those on the rival recordings and although more authentic I kind of missed the lush strings in numbers like 'Di cor mio' and 'Mi lusingha'. Also, good though the soloists are, I did feel that the whole thing lacks a little dramatic bite. With the exception of diDonato (and possibly van Rensburg) beautiful singing takes priority over making much of the words.

So, the perfect 'Alcina' remains elusive but this one comes pretty close in my opinion. Of the rivals; Christie falls down for me with a miscast Alcina and an uninteresting Ruggiero, I'm not fond of most of the casting on the Hickox version though its well conducted and Auger is pretty good in the title role, Ivor Bolton's live recording also has variable casting and although there are many good things in the old Bonygne stereo recording (even Sutherland has her moments) it does sound undeniably dated now. In my opinion then, this new Curtis recording is the one to own - until the next one comes along!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Handel vanquishing his opponents, 26 Aug 2011
By 
E. L. Wisty "World Domination League" (Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Handel: Alcina (Audio CD)
In 1733 a group of wealthy patrons and breakaway Italian singers including Senesino formed the rival company Opera of the Nobility under the direction of Nicola Antonio Porpora, which in the next season displaced Handel from the King's Theatre in the Haymarket. Handel needed to respond to the challenge and take opera up a level with new attractions to bring in the punters.

He moved to the recently opened and well-equipped Covent Garden, and gave opportunities to a number of home-grown singers alongside the Italian superstars. He began to incorporate the Covent Garden chorus (previously the chorus had consisted of the soloists in unison), and recruited the dance company of the famed French ballerina Marie Sallé.

His first production there, Ariodante, first performed in 1735, was reasonably successful, but it was with his second production of that year Alcina that Handel could be said to have vanquished his opponents. The first run was of eighteen performances, and it remains one of his most popular and well-liked operas today.

Deriving like many other of the era's operas, including Handel's aforementioned Ariodante and Orlando from two years previously, from the epic poems recounting the tales of Roland the Paladin, the plot revolves around the struggle between the crusader knight Ruggiero and his betrothed Bradamante against the sorceress Alcina and her sister Morgana.

Vocal performances are variable. Joyce DiDonato as Alcina again frustratingly demonstrates that she can be for the larger part peerless and beyond compare and yet at times a little lacking. Amongst the rest, Maite Beaumont (Ruggiero) and Sonia Prina (Bradamante) are fine but not exactly delivering vocal fireworks; Karina Gauvin (Morgana) is a bit of a standout performer - I just had to listen to her first act love-at-first-sight aria "O s'apre al riso" over and over, but again she can put in some relatively fairly ordinary pieces. The pacing of director Curtis often feels a little slow resulting in voice and music exhibiting a certain lack of dynamism.

There's plenty to like in this set, but being slightly patchy overall it's not the finest Curtis recording I have heard. 3.5 - 4 stars.

The three disc set is packaged in a double jewel case with a booklet providing notes, synopsis and libretto with translations in English, French & German.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Yes it's good, but there is just missing something..., 24 Jun 2009
By 
L. Hunt (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Handel: Alcina (Audio CD)
I feel mean giving this recording only three stars - there really is so much to recommend it. In particular, Joyce DiDonato carries off the title role excellently, always sounding secure and powerful (where needed).

Somehow, though, this recording grates on me everytime I listen because of the slightly leaden pace of the orchestra and, at times, lack of dramtic purpose! It just doesn't deliver the energy I usually associate with Handel's music, the interplay between repeated musical phrases, or the lilting lines. Harsh; maybe, and you may wish to decide for yourself whether it is fair!
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Handel ~ "Alcina", 8 April 2009
By 
Bulat R. Betalgiry (East Anglia, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Handel: Alcina (Audio CD)
This is a highly enjoyable new recording of 'Alcina', produced in vivid digital sound by DG. The cast singers are very good indeed, and Il Complesso Barocco under Alan Curtis deliver excellent musical support throughout. My vocal favourite is the Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin singing in a lush splendid voice. Since she had joined the vanguard of leading baroque opera singers a few years ago, I cannot recall a single recording of hers which is less than excellent. Not surprisingly, her Morgana is magical here and the famous aria 'Tornami A Vagheggiar' is beautifully performed. Joice DiDonato delivers her title role with much gusto and panache.

All in all, an excellent recording (notwithstanding a few audio glitches).
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The best Alcina so far, 27 April 2009
By 
JM Olmesdahl - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Handel: Alcina (Audio CD)
Another admirable Handel recording from the ever-reliable Alan Curtis. My only major reservation lies with the rather edgy and sour-toned singing of Sonia Prina who produces some rather squalid and unpleasant sounds (The same might be said of her singing in the companion release of EzioHandel: Ezio). I had not found this noticeable in previous recordings of hers with Alan Curtis. In RodelindaHandel: Rodelinda, HWV 19, for instance, I found her singing to be most compelling. I hope she will not be appearing in further releases but that DG will instead favour someone like Anna Bonitatibus who appeared in the very successful Tolomeo releaseHandel - Tolomeo / Hallenberg, Gauvin, Bonitatibus, Basso, Spagnoli, Il Complesso Barocco, Curtis. Having said that the other female principals continue to prove their credentials and are an absolute pleasure to listen to. I was initially unsure what to expect from the tenor, Kobie van Rensburg, but was won over by the enormous effort he places in varying his tone and phrases. The reading itself is somehow rather less high voltage than I was expecting (a standard set by Mr Curtis himself on his previous Archiv recordings) but, given the lack of viable, historically-informed competitors, this one wins hands down.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Recording, 13 Dec 2011
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This review is from: Handel: Alcina (Audio CD)
I read all the reviews for this product and they did not overstate how awesome a recording this is. Brilliant!
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Handel: Alcina
Handel: Alcina by George Frideric Handel (Audio CD - 2009)
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