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Handel vanquishing his opponents,
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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.