Handel’s Alcina: it’s about sex, isn’t it? Discography

Dosso Dossi (1479-1542): Alcina

“Well, it’s about sex, isn’t it?” In her introduction to the 2011 Alcina, recorded by Arthaus Musik in Vienna, American thriller writer Donna Leon argues that (we didn’t know this, of course) virtually all operas are about sex, whether it’s Der Rosenkavalier, Madama Butterfly or Dido and Aeneas. With Alcina, the story from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, set to music by Handel, taking the crown.

Yearning for (young) male flesh, the sorceress, once she is bored, transforms her victims into wild animals and sets out to find new food for … no … not for the soul. Until she herself finally falls in love, which will be her downfall. One could almost feel sorry for her!

The DVD recording from Vienna is exceptionally fine, thanks in part to director Adrian Noble. Unlike other operas by Handel, Alcina contains a lot of ballet music, something that is seamlessly integrated into the beautiful and atmospheric staging.


Anja Harteros is an outstanding Alcina. Her ‘Regina sei tradita’ is followed by a very well-deserved applause. Kassarova is completely in her element as Ruggiero, Adam Plachetka is a delightful Melisso and the young German tenor Benjamin Bruns convinces as a hot-tempered Oronte.

But my heart is stolen by the boy soprano Alois Mühlbacher. The boy is absolutely peerless in the role of Oberto searching for his missing father. Highly recommended!

Below ‘Ah! Mio cor’ by Anja Harteros:


Many Handel fans claim that nothing can rival the 1986 EMI (now Warner 50999 0880212) recording under Hickox, starring the unforgettable Arleen Augér. I can agree with this sentiment, as the voice of the soprano, who died far too young, is unearthly beautiful.

Della Jones (Ruggiero) and Kathleen Kuhlmann (Bradamante) are also absolutely irresistible, but the rest of the voices don’t really appeal to me. A pity, because I really like the tempi. Although I must admit that virtually the same cast in 1990 under William Christie sounds much more exciting
Below, Arleen Auger and her version of ‘Ah! Mio cor’:


In 1999, William Christie recorded Alcina live for Erato. Renée Fleming is a matter of taste, especially in the role of Alcina. But Susan Graham is a wonderful Ruggiero and Natalie Dessay perhaps the best Morgana ever. And Kathleen Kuhlmann once again gets to show why she is one of the most beautiful mezzos in history.


The fact that the opera has become so incredibly popular and has been performed so very frequently in recent decades is largely thanks to Joan Sutherland. Back in 1957, she brought Alcina to life in London and directed by Zefirelli. Unfortunately, we do not have a video recording of it, but La Stupenda sang and recorded the role several times afterwards and there are many both official and pirate recordings of it in circulation.

Personally, I have a soft spot for the 1959 live recording (DG, made to mark the 200th anniversary of Handel’s deat

h), not least because of Fritz Wunderlich, who sings the role of Ruggiero. Last but not least, Dutch soprano Jeannette van Dijck sings the role of Morgana. And believe it or not, the Cappella Coloniensis, led by Ferdinand Leitner, is already playing on authentic instruments. In 1959!

The score has been considerably shortened. Thus, pretty much the entire role of Oberto has been dropped. And yet… opera is mostly about voices, isn’t it? And Sutherland’s ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’ and Wunderlich’s ‘Mi lusinga il dolce affetto’ are simply second to none. (DG 4778017)

Below Joan Sutherland:

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