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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine performance,
We have not had a recording of Handel's Alessandro for some years, and now we get two within weeks of each other.
I havn't heard the competitor with Lawrence Zazzo in the title role but Max Emmanuel Cencic makes for very strong competition. His singing is florid and secure and easily manages the demands of the role. Karina Gauvin is sensuous and secure of voice as usual, in the role of Lisaura. Julia Lezhneva is a voice I have anticipated hearing and while not particularly distinctive of timbre, it is a very agile and technically accomplished voice (with a fine trill) in the role of Rossane.
In fact the whole cast is strong. The period orchestra under Petrou offers a weighty swift accompaniment which reminds me of Minkowski's conducting style, and some delightful detail throughout - I particulary liked the strings swelling accents in Alessandro's aria 'Vano amore'. In sum then a welcome return to disc for Alessandro with a fine performance and recording.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alexander in Love,
It seems altogether odd that there haven't been that many recordings of Alessandro knocking about (and now two come along at once - this present one, and Alessandro with Larry Zazzo). After all it's not as if it was one of Handel's less successful operas; its 1726 premiere season ran for thirteen performances (there would have been more if the superstar castrato Senesino in the title role had not fallen ill) and there were revivals in 1728 and 1732, as well as adaptations in Germany in 1726 and 1728, and in even further modified form music from Alessandro went under the title Rossane in London in the 1743-44 and 1747-48 seasons.
Moreover the work saw Handel bring in a second star soprano Faustina Bordoni to join Francesca Cuzzoni, the two playing rivals for Alexander's love. Indeed the rivalry went well beyond the stage and fuelled the gossip rags of the day. It is recorded that during a performance of Bononcini's Astianatte in June 1727 the two came to blows and hair pulling, the performance ending in a near riot and the opera season coming to a premature close as a result.
It's also odd that the name of director George Petrou does not seem to be as well known as it should. This is now his sixth Handel opera recording (after Arianna in Creta, Tamerlano, Oreste, Giulio Cesare in Egitto and Alessandro Severo) and they've all been darn good (well almost, except perhaps for Hammarström being a little out of her depth as Giulio Cesare).
Countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic as Alessandro is just truly superb here, even by his own standards. Soprano Karina Gauvin as Lisaura is on absolutely top form and I've probably never heard her better; she probably puts Julia Lezhneva as Rossane in the shade a little in comparison but that's simply relative - Lezhneva is outstanding too. Countertenor Xavier Sabata does a great turn of his own as Tassile the Indian king who desires Lisaura, and there are competent performances in supporting roles by tenor Juan Sancho (Leonato), bass In-Sung Sim (Clito) and countertenor Vasily Khoroshev (Cleone).
A top notch recording. Long may Petrou continue!
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent all round - and a new soprano to listen for.,
If you look at a fast aria in a Handel Opera, you see what looks like a part for a violin - a continuous string of notes, zipping up and down, without much chance to breathe or phrase. How do singers attempt to sing this music?
What a singer should do - according to the singing-manuals - is to sing each note separately, from the chest not the throat, and thread them seamlessly together to make an aural string of pearls. The only singer I have ever heard who could do this was Emma Kirkby - but hers was a light voice, probably much lighter than Handel's star sopranos, Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, who often sang in houses holding a thousand or so. Our best Handel singers today are probably Sandrine Piau (a medium-scale voice) and Joyce DiDonato (a large voice - for range and power probably more like Senesino than Faustina). They do pretty well, but neither has ever entirely convinced me: under the stress of very fast lines they have to indulge in a little fakery.
Now comes Julia Lezhneva. She can do it according to the book. Listen to her Act III aria "Brilla nell' alma". Petrou rushes this (he has listened to Piau's version on her "Opera Seria" CD) but Lezhneva is not troubled. She places each note accurately, with a good tone, despite the hectic pace. An even better example is Rossane's Act II aria "Alla sua gabbia d'oro", where Petrou gets the speed just right (because he's listened to Sigi Kuijken's recording). This is an extreme display-piece, laden with cascades of arpeggios and trills - you can almost hear Handel saying to Bordoni, then newly arrived in London, "vell, Lady, show us vat you can do". Lezhneva sings it with perfect control, in a fresh, ringing voice.
Astonishingly she manages to sound relaxed, as if she is enjoying herself, which is unheard of in this most taxing music. Even the best singers' tone tends to harden in Handel's fast arias as they stave off panic, or try to: but not Lezhneva's. How a 23-year-old Russian has learnt to do it is beyond me, but the evidence is before us. She can sing it, and to put jam on it, she can sing it tastefully (no doubt because she's listened intelligently to Kirkby's Handel recordings). Hats off, Gentlemen!
For me this is quite enough reason to buy the recording, but perhaps I ought to add that the other two singers are more than adequate (in "Alessandro" only the three main characters matter). Cencic is on good form. I don't like falsettists in this music, yet at his best he almost persuades me; but I regret that just because he can go very high, he does. Karina Gauvin is an experienced Handel singer (she sang another Cuzzoni role on Curtis' recording of "Tolomeo"). I find her voice a bit hard-edged, but she sings accurately and blends well with Lezhneva in their duets, while remaining sufficient distinctive.
This is Petrou's sixth Handel Opera recording, and at least as good as his "Tamerlano" and "Giulio Cesare", which is high praise. Yes, as I hinted, his ideas can be derivative, and he is not faultless: he rushes sometimes, and he is a bit theorbo-happy, but these are very common failings. What is not common is a willingness to play the version Handel used (unlike, say, Gardiner or Curtis) and in general to let Handel speak for himself.
The band is first-rate - just listen to those unison violins in "Alla sua gabbia d'oro". The recording is not bad, but might have put a bit more air around the voices: Cencic is the worst sufferer from this.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Rossane and Lisaura - buy for these, not the rest.,
I have all of George Petrou's Handel operas and find them wonderful but Alessandro is a disappointment.
The playing seems a bit rushed, even a bit harsh and when compared to the areated elegance and balance of kuijken's Alessandro which was recorded quite a while ago, this new recording sounds slightly heavy-handed.
The recording itself seems a bit bass-heavy and boomy, so there's lots of round warm martial horn sounds but also thundering d/basses and cellos which doesn't sound quite right. There's a clear enough topline, but between the bassy thunder and the top, the middle bits go missing, so, to my ears, some of Handel's subtle balance of sonorities is missing.
The 2 divas are 5 stars++++ performers apiece.
The really excellent thing about this recording is Julia Leszhneva singing Rossane - she has a compelling authority and poise backed up by the most stunning vocal technique. This recording is worth buying just for her performance. She produces the kind of singing which brings space and clarity even to the most hectic passages - Brilla nell'alma is astounding.
I would cross Europe, and have done, to listen to Karina Gauvin, she is a wonderful Handel interpreter, but here just occasionally she seems in some way over-engaged or hastened and maybe this tightens the voice, so some of her coloratura passages seem slightly like tremulous agitation rather than being precisely articulated vocalising. However thats only an intermittent impression, her performance is wonderful overall and as usual she brings a most impassioned and magisterially poised performance to the part.
Alessandro - I have yet to hear a counter-tenor (except perhaps the counter-tenor on the new Il Pastor Fido for a couple of arias) who does not have that strange hollowness at the heart of their voice. Handel never replaced his opera primi uomi (or any other operatic part) with falsettists, he used female mezzos/contraltos and he must have known what he was doing. (Alan Curtis has obviously taken note of this). So I don't really warm to Max Cencic, and indeed, the other falsettists. To my ears his/their voices, like other falsettists, sound a bit spooky and just doesn't have the mellow rich clarity the castrati are supposed to have had, or indeed some of the more powerful female singers around now. However, others may consider them just the ticket.
The same problem rather spoils the Kuijken Alessandro, he used Rene Jacobs, who of course is indisputably a renowned musician and scholar - but as a falsettist his Alessandro just doesn't really sound right either.
This recording should be a must-have for Handel followers and for George Petrou followers and above all to hear Julia Leshneva's performance. However, for balance, grace and subtlety I still prefer the Kuijken as the best Alessandro overall despite its age. The choice is between these two - or both.
This new recording has lots of excitement, whizz and superb divas but probably at the expense of pleasing alto voices, lightness, grace and mid-range subtleties.
7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good recording and performance,
Having just received this CD from Amazon I was very disappointed that a proper libretto was not enclosed. There was instead an essay and a synopsis. This is NOT a libretto. The case of the CD does in fact state that a libretto is enclosed and this surely does not comply with trades description rules. This is not good enough. The recording itself sounds very good and the performance is very exciting.
UPDATE; Since my original comments I have discovered that the libretto was missing from the CD box. I have now received this libretto from Decca (thank you). I have also had some time to assess the recording in detail. There is much to enjoy about this opera. To my ears the recording possesses a warm and mellow tone, but there is no lack of detail. I have particularly enjoyed the singing of Xavier Sabata and Julia Lezhneva who I have not come across previously. This is a very enjoyable addition to my collection.
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