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Opera & Vocal CD review - 11 June 2000

By Joel Kasow

Handel according to William Christie, Renée Fleming, Marc Minkowski, Maria Bayo and Skip Sempé

Handel: Acis and Galatea
Sophie Daneman (Galatea); Patricia Petibon (Damon); Paul Agnew (Acis); Joseph Cornwell (Coridon); Alan Ewing (Polyphemus); Andrew Sinclair; François Piolino; David Le Monnier
Les Arts Florissants
William Christie, conductor
Erato 3984-25505-2 (2 CDs)
Texts and translations in English, French and German

Handel: Alcina
Renée Fleming (Alcina); Natalie Dessay (Morgana); Juanita Lascarro (Oberto); Susan Graham (Ruggiero); Kathleen Kuhlmann (Bradamante); Timothy Robinson (Oronte); Laurent Naouri (Melisso)
Les Arts Florissants
William Christie, conductor
Erato 8573-80233-2 (3 CDs)
Texts and translations in English, French and German

Handel: Dixit Dominus, Slave Regina, Laudate Pueri, Saeviat Tellus
Annick Massis (soprano); Magdalena Kozená, Sara Gulgoni (mezzos)
Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre
Les Musiciens du Louvre
Marc Minkowski, conductor
Archiv 459 627-2
Texts and translations in English, French and German

Handel: Opera arias & Cantatas
Maria Bayo (soprano)
Capriccio Stravagante
Skip Sempéconductor
Auvidis/Naïve E 8674
Texts and translations in English, French and Spanish

Pergolesi: Stabat Mater; Salve Regina in f minor; Salve Regina in A Minor
Barbara Bonney (soprano); Andreas Scholl (countertenor)
Les Talens Lyriques

Christophe Rousset, conductor
Decca 466 134-2
Texts and translations in English, French and German

Handel: Acis and Galetea

Handel : Alcina

handel : minkowski

Handel: maria bayo

Pergolesi Stabat mater

William Christie's love for Handel is amply demonstrated in new recordings of Alcina and Acis and Galatea. The former was recorded live at the Paris Opera during performances in June 1999, while the latter was taken into the studio after several outings on tour: both works profit as the performers have had the opportunity to come to grips with their roles. Alcina once again fares well, though elements of the two earlier commercial recordings still retain their charms: the bravura and individuality of Sutherland, Berganza and company on Decca, or the stylishness of Auger and Jones with Richard Hickox on EMI. Renée Fleming's luscious soprano emphasizes the sensuality of the sorceress, glorying in the many slow arias, contrasting sharply with Natalie Dessay's light coloratura, a contrast heightened in the theater where she became a sort of ur-soubrette. Kathleen Kuhlmann equals her performance for EMI, with Lascarro, Robinson and Naouri all contributing with distinction. There is no doubting the distinction of Susan Graham, but the role is sometimes a bit on the low side for her while the lack of an individual timbre deprives the role of some of its stature. There are occasional cuts in the recitative, while the ballet music has largely disappeared (most of it written for Ariodante, in any event). Christie's contribution is not negligible, reflecting his pleasure in directing such an impressive collection of vocal talent. The recording adds the second act aria for Oberto and the final chorus omitted in the performance, while my set has a strange editorial mishap in Ruggiero's "La bocca vaga" where 18 measures in the da capo seem to have disappeared.

Christie has created his own version of Acis and Galatea, using the smallest of forces - eight singers and fourteen instrumentalists - in a performance that sometimes descends into pastel lithograph. Sophie Daneman's Galatea is touching in her final lament, while the extra character of Damon gives Patricia Petibon the opportunity to display her perkiness. Alan Ewing's well-sung Polyphemus is too mild-mannered, but that is the adjective that best characterizes this performance. It would be difficult to describe Maria Bayo as mild-mannered. Singing arias from Alcina, Giulio Cesare and Rinaldo, along with an Italian cantata and Handel's sole Spanish-language venture, a brief cantata with guitar accompaniment, the soprano also benefits from her stage experience as Cleopatra and Almirena, while anticipating Alcina. The small forces of Capriccio Stravagante are given equal billing with the soprano in the brightly resonant recording. Bayo's sense of line and ornament are given full play, while she can be as eloquent as the far more opulent Fleming.

If you like a kinetic approach to Handel, listen to Marc Minkowski's version of Dixit Dominus, the culminating point of an introduction to Handel's Roman sacred music, with Annick Massis making light of the difficult Saeviat tellus and Magdalena Kozená appropriately devotional in her two contributions.

With the amount of music definitely attributable to Pergolesi now much less than once was thought to be the case, it is inevitable that versions of the Stabat Mater proliferate. Long popular, it is only recently that the early music specialists have taken over, and this is the second version to come my way. It has the advantage of including both Salve Reginas so that each of the soloists in the major work has an individual opportunity to shine. Barbara Bonney and Andreas Scholl have "straighter" voices than Gérard Lesne and Véronique Gens on the rival EMI recording so that choice will depend on the listener's tastes and preferences.

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