Alcina

For Joan Sutherland on her Birthday

Alcina


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 death), 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)

Norma

Joan Sutherland recorded Norma twice (officially). Her first recording from 1965 (Decca 4704132) caused a real sensation. It was the very first recording of Bellini’s complete music, without any cut. Moreover, it was the first recording in the original key (Bellini composed his opera in G, but before the premiere he changed it to F).

In those days, Sutherland was considered the belcanto specialist par excellence. Her voice knew no limits and seemed to be made of elastic. High, higher, highest, and with coloraturas that sound almost inhumanly perfect.


Adalgisa was sung by Marilyn Horne, Sutherland’s alter ego in the mezzo voice. The result is dazzling, but it lacks the necessary drama, all the more so because John Alexander (Pollione) has a beautiful but insipid voice.


The orchestral playing is excellent, however, and if you like pure singing, high notes and coloratura, this recording is the best choice.




Twenty years later, Sutherland recorded the role again, this time with Montserrat Caballé (Adalgisa) and Luciano Pavarotti (Pollione). Let’s call it a mistake, although Caballé’s Adalgisa is at least interesting. It’s a pity it wasn’t thought of sooner.


Lucia di Lammermoor

Lucia di Lammermoor has always been, perhaps even more than Norma, a point of contention between the supporters of Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. The performances of both ladies are indeed fantastic and, moreover, totally different. Which of the two should you own? That is not easy. A matter of taste, shall we say?


Joan Sutherland is unprecedentedly virtuoso and her coloraturas so perfect that they hurt. And yet I remain untouched by her. Why? Perhaps because it is too perfect? I do not know. It could just be me.

I Puritani

Elvira, like Lucia, was a showpiece for Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland, both of whom recorded it several times. In 1974, Richard Bonynge (Decca 4175882) made a peerless recording of the opera, besides Sutherland, there was the sublime male trio: Luciano Pavarotti, Nicolai Ghiaurov and Piero Cappuccilli. Sutherland sounds like a little heap of misery, and her virtuosity knows no limits. Pavarotti still possessed all his glorious long high notes in those days and he pops them out with no effort at all.

Les Huguenots




 Les Huguenots, once one of the most successful operas in the history of the Paris Opera, had the misfortune, along with its creator, to be labelled ‘Entartet’ (degenerate) by the Nazis. One of the reasons why the work was ignored for decades and was only sporadically performed.

Marguerite de Valois has always been one of Joan Sutherland’s favourite roles, she sang her in 1962 at La Scala, and she chose to sing her in her last opera production on stage, on  October 2, 1990 in Sydney.

The voice of the over 60-year old La Stupenda is not so solid anymore, but her height and her coloratura are still very much present, and apart from Amanda Thane (Valentine) and the really splendid Suzanne Johnston (Page), none of the singers manage to perform at her level. The acting is very good and the inevitable ballet is anything but irritating.

The costumes and the scenery are true-to-life and evocatively beautiful, and the entire stage most resembles a large, seventeenth-century painting. The very traditional production is not only beautiful to look at, but also insanely exciting: this is proof that a good director (Lotfi Mansuri) does not need concepts

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



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:



ARLEEN AUGÉR



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’:



RENÉE FLEMING


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.





JOAN SUTHERLAND



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:





Alcina van Händel: it’s about sex, isn’t it? Discografie

Alcina Dosso Dossi

Dosso Dossi (1479-1542): Alcina

“Well, it’s about sex, isn’t it?” In haar inleiding voor de in 2011 door Arthaus Musik in Wenen opgenomen Alcina stelt de Amerikaanse thrillerschrijfster Donna Leon dat het (dat wisten wij natuurlijk niet) in vrijwel alle opera’s draait om seks, om het even of het Der Rosenkavalier, Madama Butterfly of Dido and Aeneas is. Waarbij Alcina, het door Händel op muziek gezette verhaal uit Orlando Furioso van Ariosto, de kroon spant.

De naar (jonge) mannenvlees snakkende tovenares, eenmaal verveeld, tovert zij haar slachtoffers om in wilde dieren en gaat op zoek naar de nieuwe voedsel voor … nee… niet voor de ziel. Tot zij zelf eenmaal verliefd word, want dat wordt haar ondergang. Men zou bijna medeleven met haar hebben!

ANJA HARTEROS

Alcina Harteros

De dvd-opname uit Wenen is buitengewoon fraai, wat onder meer te danken is aan regisseur Adrian Noble. In tegenstelling tot andere opera’s van Händel bevat Alcina veel balletmuziek, iets wat in de mooie en sfeervolle enscenering naadloos is geïntegreerd.

Anja Harteros is een voortreffelijke Alcina. Na haar ‘Regina sei tradita’ volgt een zeer verdiend opendoekje. Kassarova is helemaal in haar element als Ruggiero, Adam Plachetka is een heerlijke Melisso en de jonge Duitse tenor Benjamin Bruns overtuigd als de heetgebakerde Oronte.

Maar mijn hart wordt gestolen door de jongenssopraan Alois Mühlbacher. De jongen is absoluut weergaloos in de rol van de naar zijn vermiste vader zoekende Oberto. Een aanrader!

Hieronder ‘Ah! Mio cor’ door Anja Harteros:

ARLEEN AUGÉR

AlcinaAuger1

Veel Händel liefhebbers beweren dat er niets boven de EMI (tegenwoordig Warner 50999 0880212) opname uit 1986 onder Hickox gaat, met in de hoofdrol de onvergetelijke Arleen Augér. Daar kan ik een eind in meekomen, want de stem van de veel te jong gestorven sopraan is onaards mooi.


Ook Della Jones (Ruggiero) en Kathleen Kuhlmann (Bradamante) zijn absoluut onweerstaanbaar, maar de rest van de stemmen kunnen mij niet echt bekoren. Jammer, want ik vind de tempi echt mooi. Al moet ik toegeven dat vrijwel dezelfde bezetting in 1990 onder William Christie veel spannender klinkt.

Hieronder Arleen Auger en haar versie van ‘Ah! Mio cor’:

RENÉE FLEMING

Alcina Fleming

In 1999 heeft William Christie Alcina live opgenomen voor Erato. Renée Fleming is een kwestie van smaak, zeker in de rol van Alcina. Aan mij is het in ieder geval niet besteed. Maar Susan Graham is een prachtige Ruggiero en Natalie Dessay wellicht de beste Morgana ooit. En Kathleen Kuhlmann mag weer eens laten horen waarom zij één van de mooiste mezzo’s uit de geschiedenis is.


JOAN SUTHERLAND

Alcina Sutherland

Dat de opera zo ontzettend populair is geworden en de laatste decennia zeer frequent wordt opgevoerd, dat hebben wij voornamelijk aan Joan Sutherland te danken. In 1957 al bracht zij Alcina in Londen tot leven, in de regie van Zefirelli. Jammer genoeg hebben we geen video-opname van, maar de rol heeft La Stupenda daarna ettelijke keren gezongen en opgenomen en er zijn veel zowel officiële als piratenopnamen van in de omloop.

Zelf heb ik een zwak voor de live-opname uit 1959 (DG, gemaakt naar aanleiding van de 200e sterfdag van Händel), niet in de laatste plaats vanwege Fritz Wunderlich, die de rol van Ruggiero zingt. Ook niet onbelangrijk: in de rol van Morgana zingt de Nederlandse sopraan Jeannette van Dijck. En geloof het of niet, maar de Cappella Coloniensis speelt onder leiding van Ferdinand Leitner al op authentieke instrumenten. In 1959!


De partituur is behoorlijk ingekort. Zo is zowat de hele rol van Obert gesneuveld. En toch… opera gaat voornamelijk over stemmen, nietwaar? En Sutherlands ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’ en Wunderlichs ‘Mi lusinga il dolce affetto’ zijn gewoon ongeëvenaard. (DG 4778017)

Hieronder Joan Sutherland: