Vivaldi’s famous Four Seasons sway listeners’ emotions by depicting how country-folk in 18th-century Italy react to the joy of Spring, the heat of Summer, Autumn wine and Winter storms. In north-western Finland, the ancient tradition of folk-fiddle playing in Kaustinen has nurtured a new generation of string players, leading to the formation of two world-class orchestras (modern and baroque) in the region.
The scope and grandeur of Handel's operatic output – the musical variety and inventiveness, the depth of psychological insight, as well as the sheer volume of works – continue to astonish as new operas are brought to light and more familiar works are given productions and recordings that do justice to the material. Ariodante, written in 1735, is nowhere nearly as frequently performed as the more famous operas like Giulio Cesare, but neither is it entirely obscure, and there have been several very fine modern recordings. This version with Alan Curtis leading Il Complesso Barocco can be recommended without reservation to anyone coming to the opera for the first time or for anyone who's already a fan. It's sonically impeccable, with full, spacious sound that's at the same time intimate and finely detailed. Curtis has a sure grip on the opera's depths of passion and its dramatic trajectory – the libretto, by Antonio Salvi, based on an episode from Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso," is one of the most direct and emotionally potent that the composer set – and he brings the urgency of the story vividly to life. The superb cast is fully invested in the characters and performs with unguarded intensity. In the title role mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato sings with sumptuous tone, acrobatic agility, and penetrating dramatic honesty; this is a performance that even further cements her standing as one of the outstanding singing actresses of her time. The rest of the cast is very much in the same league; sopranos Karina Gauvin and Sabina Puértolas, bass Matthew Brook, and tenors Topi Lehtipuu and Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani have gorgeous voice and sure dramatic instincts, and contralto Marie Nicole Lemieux, with a voice and temperament that call Marilyn Horne to mind, practically steals the show as the villainous Duke of Alba. Il Complesso Barocco contributes as much as the singers, not only to the richly textured musical fabric but to the surging dramatic momentum.(Stephen Eddins)
Alan Curtis' stellar recording of Alcina, which joins a respectable number of very fine recordings of the opera, is remarkable for the supple liveliness of his conducting and the outstanding performances of the soloists. The elasticity of his performance, leading Il Complesso Barocco, should dispel any misconceptions about Baroque music being rigid and metronomic. The nuanced care with which he brings out the emotional depth of Handel's writing is evident from the first measures of the overture and enlivens the entire opera. The opera is one of Handel's strongest, both in its sensuous, endlessly inventive music, and in the coherence and emotional complexity of its libretto, taken by an anonymous writer from Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso," the source of many operas of the era, and Curtis and the singers give it fiery dramatic urgency. The soloists assembled here, veterans of Baroque opera, perform with assurance and fluent familiarity with the style. The intelligence and emotional rightness of their ornamentation in the da capo arias is especially impressive, and they handle the florid pyrotechnics with polish and an engaging sense of spontaneity. Joyce DiDonato is stunning in the title role, with the intensity of a force of nature, and Maite Beaumont as Ruggiero and Karina Gauvin as Morgana are no less impressive.
Conductor Jean-Claude Malgoire must be kicking himself pretty hard right now. Several years ago, impatient that no trace of Antonio Vivaldi's only opera set in the New World, Motezuma, seemed to be turning up, Malgoire cobbled his own version of the work by pulling together a variety of music from other bits and scraps of Vivaldi and fitting it to the extant libretto. Lo and behold, with the rediscovery of the Berliner Singakademie collection in Russia early in this century, the manuscript of Motezuma is now a known quantity, and it turns out that Malgoire's concoction bears no resemblance whatsoever to it. Nonetheless, even he has to be grateful that this extraordinary score has been located, and now, recorded by Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco on the Archiv Produktion release Vivaldi: Motezuma.
Early in 1709 Antonio Caldara became maestro di cappella to the Marchese Francesco Maria Ruspoli in Rome. If the appointment brought new stability to his personal life, it also inspired him to remarkable creative effort. The two cantatas recorded here afford only a brief glimpse into a veritable musical treasure chest, the legacy of the seven years he held sway over an array of entertainments given by one of Rome's most lavish patrons of the arts.
Ercole su’l Termodonte was Vivaldi’s 16th opera, appearing in 1723 in Rome. There was a Papal ban on women appearing on stage at the time and so the opera was sung by seven castrati and a male tenor, the latter singing the title role, Hercules. Portraying either the Amazons of myth or Greek warriors, the castrati must have been quite a scene and made quite a sound. Conducted by a Catholic priest–Vivaldi himself–with red hair, the entire proposition boggles the mind.
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.
Handel's Giove in Argo (Jupiter in Argos) is bottom-of-the-barrel stuff, a pastiche (or, in the parlance of the time, pasticcio) of numbers from earlier operas stitched together into a mythological-pastoral plot that is absurd even by the standards of Baroque opera. It is a notable sign of the success of the Baroque opera revival that this has appeared on a semi-major label, Virgin Classics. The pieces were all from operas that were fairly recent at the time, and it's possible that the work was intended as a kind of greatest-hits reprise, but London audiences did not bite; the opera was long thought to be lost, and it had its modern premiere only in 2006, with newly written recitatives.
Alan Curtis, lauded by Opera as one of our finest conductors of Baroque opera, illumines Handel s masterpiece, Alcina, by casting, as heroine, the brilliant Joyce DiDonato. Since Alcina is historically dared by virtuosic sopranos like Sutherland and Battle, this innovative recording with a mezzo is a must-have not just for Alcina freaks but all who adore sensational vocalism. As Handel did in his time, Curtis arrays our era s finest Baroque singers such as Maite Beaumont and Karina Gauvin in supporting roles around his star. With this electrifying Alcina, first ever studio recording of the rarely heard Ezio and Rolando Villazón s new album, Handel Year 2009 is being exceptionally well feted by Deutsche Grammophon.
A 2012 live recording of Baldassarre Galuppis Il Filosofo di Campagna. Born on an island in the Venice lagoon, Galuppi was an intensely prolific and highly esteemed composer of the Venetian Baroque era. His works included sacred music, sacred and profane cantatas, instrumental works, oratorios and operas, many of which are comic. Among the latter, of particular importance are those born of his collaboration with Carlo Goldoni. The deeply Venetian aspects of Goldoni and Galuppi together created a body of 18th century comic opera of which Il Filosofo di Campagna (The Country Philosopher) is arguably Galuppis best known. With the Ensemble Barocco della Filarmonica del Veneto led by Fabrizio da Ros and a pan-European cast of young singers mount a lively production.