Handel, Cleopatra (arias from Giulio Cesare), N. Dessay, Le Concert d'Astrée, E. Haïm
(released on February 8, 2011)
Virgin 907872 2 | 65:32
If anything, Dessay sounds better than she did on the Delirio album; indeed, her performance here is better than anything I have heard her do since her surgeries for vocal nodes. She keeps the scoops and other bothersome idiosyncrasies to a minimum, and while her middle and low range are no stronger than they ever were (Dessay also admitted in that Le Figaro interview that the role sits low even without lowering the pitch to A415), the top is at full sparkle. As she did on the Delirio disc, Dessay adds brilliant embellishments and cadenzas: as suspected of that previous recording, Emmanuelle Haïm is credited with these very ornate interpolations, in collaboration with Dessay's coach, Yves Castagnet. The musically demanding and dramatically challenging role of Cleopatra has tempted many sopranos, including recently Magdalena Kožená (on disc) and Danielle de Niese (at Glyndebourne), but Dessay plays it to the hilt in a very satisfying way, at least on disc. She is supported, ably but no more, by mezzo-soprano Sonia Prina as Giulio Cesare and countertenor Stephen Wallace as Nireno. Whatever Haïm does in her conducting, Le Concert d'Astrée sound in excellent form, incisive but not overly amped up, with fine solo contributions from the nine instrumentalists in the Mount Parnassus scene, a musical representation of the nine muses accompanying Cleopatra enthroned allegorically as Virtue.