The real prize in this jam packed nine-CD set is of course the incandescent recording of Giulio Cesare with some of the most phenomenal singing on record by Larmore, Schlick, and Fink. When this came out it created quite a stir, given it is about as complete as it ever has been, and filled with Jacob’s searching and trend-setting conducting. While it won’t displace favorites of yesteryear, those recordings are of a different era and style altogether, and here the opera comes together in a manner fully redolent of what Handel must have envisioned.
Equally known for his live performances and musicological work in establishing new performing practices for early opera, Alan Curtis enjoyed a fruitful career. A scholar, as well as a conductor and harpsichordist, Curtis edited several important works with an appreciation for authenticity, effective performance, and – in the case of opera – stage-worthiness. Several of his best recordings were issued in the 1990s and in the new millennium. Curtis studied first at Michigan State University and attained his bachelor's degree there in 1955.
This set contains 8 operas by Handel in 22 CDs. In many ways, this box is a mix-bag: some of them performed in the "traditional style" with severe cuts, and others in "historically-informed" performances. Selection includes some of the most popular Handel operas and some of the rarely-performed. It's the latter category that one should pay closer attention.
Skin-tight rubber and lacrosse sticks bring contemporary chic to this timeless fantasy of warriors and witches in Robert Carsen's fun-filled transformation of Handel's first London triumph. Conducting from the keyboard just as Handel himself did, Ottavio Dantone leads a youthful cast of today's luminaries in the dramatic art of Baroque opera, the 'affecting' Sonia Prina, the 'unadorned intensity' of Anett Fritsch and 'fire-breathing flair' (The Observer) of Brenda Rae.
Rinaldo’s libretto, based on Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata, relates the siege of Jerusalem, during the first Crusade, by the Christian army lead by Godefroy de Bouillon. In this production, Goffredo is a preacher – nice suit and white teeth – who seems to be in conflict with the vamp Armida and her night club called “Gerusalemme”. Argante is the Saracen bouncer of the night club and particularly resistant to Goffredo’s speech. Almirena, Goffredo’s daughter, is a good looking maid who appears looking like a sort of Jeanne d’Arc but rapidly changes into a pom-pom girl. She is lusted after by Armida for her night club and is used by her father to manipulate or at least to motivate Rinaldo – an Eliott Ness or Dick Tracy like hero. Note that Almirena’s capture, which precedes and triggers Rinaldo’s famous lament “Cara sposa”, looks like a tribute to Hitchcock’s Birds.
Soprano Lucy Crowe joins The English Concert led by Harry Bicket in this dazzling programme of Handel arias and cantatas dating from his 1706-10 sojourn in Italy, where he was affectionately dubbed ‘the dear Saxon’. 2nd in the 2005 Kathleen Ferrier and a Wigmore Young Artist, Lucy Crowe made her debuts with Scottish Opera as Sophie in 'Der Rosenkavalier' and ENO as Poppea in 'Agrippina', both to great critical acclaim.