Händel’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 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)

Below Joan Sutherland:

The Song of Terezin & Requiem Ebraico

waxman zeissl

In the nineties of the last century the (once very renowned) classical music label Decca started an unsurpassed series ‘Entartete Musik’. Under the supervision of producer Michael Haas, works were recorded by composers who were persecuted by the Nazis, many of whom were murdered in concentration camps and then ignored and even forgotten for decades.

The series didn’t last long. Sales figures were disappointing, Haas was fired, and most of those CDs are now out of print.

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Franz Waxman

Every true fan of film classics knows the music of Franz Waxman. His compositions for Rebecca, Sunset Boulevard and A Place in the Sun, among others, have earned him numerous Oscar nominations and twice he was actually awarded the statuette.

waxman zeisl humoresque

For Humoresque by Jean Negulesco, starring Joan Crawford and John Garfield, he composed an outright hit: ‘Carmen Fantasie’ (played in the film by Isaac Stern), a virtuoso piece for violin and orchestra that is ubiquitous in concert halls and on recordings.

However, few people know that he has also composed ‘serious’ music. It is simply ignored.

waxman zeisl zeisl

Eric Zeisl

Zeisl’s name is almost completely forgotten nowadays. Harmonia Mundi once recorded some of his chamber music works, but these recordings too have since disappeared from the catalogue. Both composers were contemporaries with a similar fate, who ended up in Hollywood on the run from the Nazis. If their respective fates are similar, their music in no way is.

The song cycle Das Lied von Terezín consists of eight poems, written by Czech children between the ages of 12 and 16 during their stay in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Deeply affected by the fate of these children, Waxman composed a very moving piece of music in 1965 that, in terms of its power of expression, can be compared to Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw. The majority is written in the twelve-tone technique, but there is also a clear influence of Zemlinsky (‘Der Garten’) and in ‘Dachbodenkoncert in einer alten Schule’ a motive from Beethoven’s Mondscheinsonate is quoted. The whole is performed very movingly by the two choirs and the mezzo-soprano Della Jones.

Eric Zeisl’s Requiem Ebraico is based on Psalm 92 and is dedicated to the composer’s father and ‘all the victims of the Jewish tragedy in Europe’. Zeisl’s music is very melodic and strongly influenced by Jewish and Hebrew themes. It is unbelievable that it is not performed more frequently!

Franz Waxman: The Song of Terezín
Eric Zeisl: Requiem Ebraico
Deborah Riedel, Della Jones, Michael Kraus
Rundfunk-kinderchor Berlin, Rundfunkchor Berlin, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin conducted by Lawrence Foster (Decca 4602112)

“Ich möcht so gern nach Haus!”: Anne Sofie von Otter sings songs by ‘Theresienstadt composers.’

Entartete Musik, Teresienstadt and Channel Classics

Translated with http://www.Deep

Das Lied von Terezín & Requiem Ebraico

waxman zeissl

In de jaren negentig van de vorige eeuw heeft de (ooit zeer gerenommeerde) klassieke muziek label Decca een onvolprezen serie ‘Entartete Musik’ opgestart. Onder supervisie van de producer Michael Haas werden er werken opgenomen van de door nazi’s vervolgde componisten van wie velen in de concentratiekampen werden vermoord en daarna decennialang werden genegeerd en zelfs vergeten.

Lang heeft het niet geduurd. De verkoopcijfers vielen tegen, Haas werd ontslagen, en de meeste van die cd’s zijn inmiddels uit de catalogus.

Franz Waxman

waxmann zeisl waxman-resize-800x955

Franz Waxman

Elke oprechte liefhebber van filmklassiekers kent de muziek van Franz Waxman. Zijn composities voor o.a. Rebecca, Sunset Boulevard en A Place in the Sun hebben hem ettelijke Oscar nominaties bezorgd en twee keer mocht hij het beeldje ook daadwerkelijk in ontvangst nemen.

waxman zeisl humoresque

Voor Humoresque van Jean Negulesco, met in de hoofdrollen Joan Crawford en John Garfield componeerde hij een regelrechte kraker: ‘Carmen Fantasie’ (in de film gespeeld door Isaac Stern), een niet uit de concertzalen en opnamen weg te krijgen virtuoze stuk voor viool en orkest.

Weinig mensen weten echter dat hij ook ‘serieuze’ muziek heeft gecomponeerd. Het wordt gewoon genegeerd.


Eric Zeisl

waxman zeisl zeisl

Eric Zeisl

Zeisls naam is tegenwoordig vrijwel helemaal vergeten. Ooit heeft Harmonia Mundi een paar van zijn kamermuziekwerken opgenomen, maar ook die opnamen is inmiddels uit de catalogus verdwenen. Beide componisten waren generatie- en lotgenoten, die op de vlucht voor de nazi’s in Hollywood belandden. Mochten hun beider lotgevallen op elkaar lijken, hun muziek doet het allerminst.

De liederencyclus Das Lied von Terezín bestaat uit acht gedichten, geschreven door Tsjechische kinderen in de leeftijd van 12 tot 16 jaar tijdens hun verblijf in de concentratiekamp Theresienstadt.

Hevig aangedaan door het lot van deze kinderen componeerde Waxman in 1965 een zeer aangrijpende muziekstuk dat qua uitdrukkingskracht valt te vergelijken met Schönbergs Overlevende uit Warschau. Het gros is geschreven in twaalftoonstechniek, maar er valt ook een duidelijke invloed van Zemlinsky te bespeuren (‘Der Garten’) en in ‘Dachbodenkoncert in einer alten Schule’ wordt een motief uit de Mondscheinsonate van Beethoven geciteerd. Het geheel wordt zeer ontroerend vertolkt door de beide koren en de mezzosopraan Della Jones.

Het Requiem Ebraico van Eric Zeisl heeft als basis Psalm 92 en is opgedragen aan de vader van de componist en ‘alle slachtoffers van de Joodse tragedie in Europa’. Zeisls muziek is zeer melodieus en sterk beïnvloed door de Joodse en Hebreeuwse thema’s. Onvoorstelbaar, dat het niet vaker wordt uitgevoerd!

Franz Waxman: The Song of Terezín
Eric Zeisl: Requiem Ebraico
Deborah Riedel, Della Jones, Michael Kraus Rundfunk-kinderchor Berlin, Rundfunkchor Berlin, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin olv Lawrence Foster (Decca 4602112)


Rudolf Karel, een ‘Theresienstadt componist’ die vrijwel niemand kent

PAVEL HAAS door het Kocian Quartet

Renée Fleming zingt BERG, WELLESZ en ZEISL

Entartete Musik, Teresienstadt en Channel Classics