I enjoyed listening to this. Although I will admit, after what I’ve been up to during the last two weeks I can think of one and only one instance in which I would be willing to listen to any part of Alcina again for at least three months.
This may sound like damning with faint praise, but it isn’t: I enjoyed listening to the orchestra in this performance. You can hear it well on this recording, for one thing, and there are some nice little moments, e.g. during “mio bel tesoro” where you can hear not only the recorders but also the lute (e.g. 1:19:45). (Unrelated: ever notice how there are these patterns of octaves in the strings during this aria that are similar to ditto in “scherza, infida” from Ariodante? There is something about that pattern and romantic betrayal in Handel.)
In terms of singing. This is more a personal preference than a considered aesthetic argument, but I rarely enjoy listening to very low male voices. There’s just something sort of furry about them. So I won’t comment on Melisso. The tenor they have singing Oronte gets the job done and is rather sweet in “un momento di contento.”
My first reaction to Morgana’s first aria was a kind of suspension of judgement in the hope that the singer (Catriona Smith) would warm up. I didn’t initially enjoy the sound of her voice, and there were some intonation problems. However, “tornami a vagheggiar” was a little mellower and as the performance went on I got used to her. In addition, this production gives Morgana a little bit more to do in terms of story than is customary and I liked this – but that’s separate from the music.
Helene Schneiderman (Bradamante) and Alice Coote (Ruggiero) are both very much worth hearing — Coote in particular.
Alcina, as noted, is Catherine Naglestad. This role seems to attract singers who are not necessarily Handel-y. Naglestad’s vibrato is wide and at times she’s moving around the note rather than being right on it; she doesn’t have the precise coloratura that Schneiderman displays in “vorrei vindicarmi.” I remember noticing this about her performance of Vitellia as well – there is excellent acting and a lot of really nice sounds and her phrasing can be absolutely wonderful, but sometimes her singing lacks the kind of precision that you expect in this type of music.
Parts of this performance sound beautiful, e.g. “Ah! mio cor.” With the eternal caveat that I know nothing about singing, I suspect that this is one of those roles that demands a lot — a big range, rapid-fire coloratura, intense expressiveness, a flair for Handelian style — and it’s the rare singer that’s got it all. Naglestad has most of it most of the time. I’m not complaining. One odd thing: some arias do not get the repeat of the A section, e.g. ‘mi restano le lagrime’ and I think one other that I noticed, but I don’t recall which.
So, this sounds nice. But this production is not something you’d buy for sound alone. Because, as noted earlier, this version of Alcina is kind of weird. I had to stop and think before I could articulate what I think is going on here and why it doesn’t work. I figured it out, but it’s complicated enough that I’ll save it for later.
(Next part here.)