Vivica Genaux’s superb recording of arias by Handel and Hasse composed for Faustina Bordoni shows why that 18th-century singer, who had a notorious catfight with her rival Francesca Cuzzoni in front of the Princess of Wales, was so envied. Handel wrote some glorious arias for her, most notably Lusinghe piu care from Alessandro, beautifully sung by Genaux on the opening track. Johann Adolph Hasse didn’t quite have the magic touch of Handel musically, but he married Bordoni and then proceeded to compose at least 15 operatic roles for her – truly justifying their contemporary reputation as the power couple of 18th-century opera.
Adapted from author Gail Carson Levine's award-winning children's book of the same name, the Miramax-financed modern fantasy Ella Enchanted is directed by Tommy O'Haver and stars The Princess Diaries alumna Anne Hathaway. Ella (Hathaway) lives in a magical world in which each child, at the moment of their birth, is given a virtuous "gift" from a fairy godmother. Ella's so-called gift, however, is obedience. This birthright proves itself to be quite the curse once Ella finds herself in the hands of several unscrupulous characters whom she quite literally cannot disobey. Determined to gain control of her life and decisions, Ella sets off on a journey she hopes will end with the lifting of the curse in question. The path, however, isn't easy – Ella must outwit a slew of unpleasant magical creatures ranging from ogres to talking books with evil plots. Though perilous, Ella's adventures turn out to be necessary obstacles in the path toward finding herself, and maybe even true love along the way. Ella Enchanted also features Cary Elwes, who has starred in a fantasy feature himself (the widely acclaimed The Princess Bride), Hugh Dancy, and Patrick Bergin, among others.
One of Handel’s rarer operas, Arminio, set at the time of the Roman Empire, was first performed in 1737. “On the evidence of this very fine recording,” said Gramophone when this performance first appeared, “it can stand among the best of the Handel operas, full of beautiful and imaginative things.” Conducting a cast led by the virtuosic Vivica Genaux in the title role – composed for the castrato Domenico Annibali – is the renowned Handel specialist Alan Curtis.
This recording was made as a result of the first modern production, which was presented in the same Florentine theater in which the opera had received its premiere. With an unusually convoluted plot, and lasting over three-and-a-half hours, its unlikely that Atenaide will ever make its way into the repertoire, but especially for the Vivaldi enthusiast and the lover of virtuosic Baroque vocal display, the opera should be very attractive. In the title role, Sandrine Piau sings with remarkable tonal purity, flexibility, and expressivity. The other women in the cast are worthy colleagues for Piau. Soprano Vivica Genaux, mezzo-sopranos Guillemette Laurens and Romina Basso, and, especially, contralto Nathalie Stutzman pour themselves fully into their roles, creating rounded, clearly differentiated characters, and they maintain the highest standards of vocal beauty and virtuosity. The men, tenors Paul Agnew and Stefano Ferrari, are out of their league in such stellar company; they don't lack the technical facility to manage the music, but their voices are small and tend to sound thin and underpowered. Federico Maria Sardelli leads Modo Antiquo in a delicate but spirited performance that is nicely nuanced, and gives the singers plenty of opportunity to be rhythmically free and expressive in the recitatives. Naïve's sound is immaculate, with a lively balance between the singers and instrumentalists.