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Berenice, Regina d'Egitto

available at Amazon
Handel, Berenice, Regina d'Egitto,
K. Ek, I. Bohlin, R. Basso,
Il Complesso Barocco, A. Curtis

(released on July 13, 2010)
Virgin 6285362 0 | 166'35"

Online score:
Handel, Berenice, Regina d'Egitto

available at Amazon
W. Dean, Handel's Operas, 1726-1741
We always look forward to the roughly annual new release in the ongoing series of Handel operas from musicologist and conductor Alan Curtis and his ensemble Il Complesso Barocco. These recordings almost always recommend themselves instantly, a combination of musical beauty and musicological authority, either the first recording of the work or taking first place from older ones. That is certainly the case with this new recording of Berenice, Regina d’Egitto, not only better than the only other available recording but also less expensive. The premiere of this work, in 1737, coincided with the final decline of the Covent Garden company that produced Handel's operas and a stroke that left Handel without the use of one arm. Composed over a period of six weeks, the opera is an adaptation, possibly by Handel himself ("a botched piece of work, one improbable situation succeeding another," in the opinion of Handel scholar Winton Dean), of a libretto by Antonio Salvi, which Handel may have come across in Florence in 1709. In making his new edition of the score, Curtis reinstated some of the music that Handel cut before the premiere and corrected some of the omissions in the Chrysander complete works edition. What is heard here is definitive and it is hard to imagine a more beautiful recording ever being able to supplant it.

At the top of the fine cast is the Swedish soprano Klara Ek, whose remarkable voice and virtuoso technique we have admired before. She is at her best perhaps in the great aria of this opera's third act, Chi t'intende, with its extended obbligato oboe part, written for Handel's oboist Giuseppe Sammartini and played excellently here by Patrick Beaugirard. (Handel transferred this aria from Fabio, in the original Salvi libretto, to Berenice, to brilliant effect: Dean observes that it "leaves the impression not of a da capo aria, but of a freely organized scena, [with] almost the impact of a mad scene.") Another singer often admired at Ionarts, mezzo-soprano Romina Basso, brings the role of Berenice's sister (and rival), Selene, to vivid life with her rich lower register (if perhaps a tendency toward overactive trilled 'r'). Rounding out the cast are the clear-toned soprano Ingela Bohlin as Alessandro (the suitor sent by Rome to seek Berenice's hand), the full-blooded countertenor Franco Fagioli as Demetrio (the prince Berenice wants to wed but who instead wants to marry her sister), suave bass Vito Priante as Aristobolo (Berenice's trusted counselor), and potent mezzo-soprano Mary-Ellen Nesi as Arsace (who also seeks Selene's hand). Slightly less pleasing is the overly nasal tenor Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani as the Roman ambassador Fabio. The score can be austere, orchestrated with only two oboes and bassoon plus the strings, but has many passages of exceptional beauty.

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