Pallid Alcina (Erato, 1999)

What this recording sorely lacks is a pair of cojones. I listened to the first two acts, as Swissradio Opera programmed it rather late at the end of October. But I think that was enough to develop an opinion.

To start off, the pace is way too relaxed and polite. It’s right to be mindful of your singers but not to erase any possibility of dramatic involvement. Maestro’s only care seems to be keeping proceedings brisk. Lyrical passages aren’t very slowly taken yet feel completely bland. Then everybody sounds ethereal to the point where I can’t feel real emotion of any sort. Who are these characters and what do they want?

RF sounds like RF singing Alcina’s arias, in a general operatic fashion, with no attention to (or interest in?) Baroque styling. She doesn’t convey a particularly fetching character, nor does she sound broken upon discovering that Ruggiero doesn’t love her anymore. Ombre pallide indeed. SG, whom I’ve enjoyed a lot in other roles, does a surprisingly bloodless Ruggiero. I can’t even remember Di te mi rido. La boca vaga lacked wit, Mi lusinga… was relatively pretty but inexpressive, even came off as a bit of a chore. Hey, Ruggiero, this souffle falls flat if Mi lusinga… ain’t making a strong impression. Is this the same singer who put so much emotion into Sesto’s portrayal? Somebody must’ve told her to focus on pretty sounds and forget all about the whys and wherefores. I know this is about 7 years before the Tito DVD, but really? Whoever sang Morgana was careful to pack in a lot of ornaments, not that they made any real sense beside showing off her mad skillz. Tornami… was far from seductive, if correctly sung. It’s a sad Alcina day when you’re looking forward to Oronte and Melisso’s arias. Not that they aren’t good, but because they are scarce. The men were the best thing, which is kind of funny considering my opening statement.

To sum it up, the problem seems to be a general lack of trust in the opera’s dramatic integrity. Team: Here’s a piece that contains a lot of beautiful arias, let’s make them sound as lovely as we can and call it a day.

Now Fleming’s Rodelinda left me so underwhelmed I pretty much wrote her Handel off. But it’s Alcina1 I made it to Ombre pallide.


  1.  I’m afraid it’s turning into another Tito (not that it’s a bad thing). 
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About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on December 3, 2014, in audio only, baroque and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. i listened to this too! but never finished! awhile back vivalavoce broadcast it and i tuned in.. and remember thinking about water running off faucet or something… then time past and i was… ahem.. searching… for Arleen Auger version (should be veeeery exquisite based on “si son quella” i heard on tube before it was taken down) and thought i found it.. so eagerly listening.. and after 2 arias thought this sounds awwwfully similar to that tab water running one.. and indeed it was! (mistakenly labeled). so, am still looking for arleen auger, and glad to hear your opinion here, coz i didn’t want to sound like a AH+VK-crazed fan who complains about RF and SG on alcina!
    (ps- haha, found my comment :D)

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    • you know, sometimes there’s a good reason one is a crazed fan of something (or someone). There were many good reviews on Amazon and I had some expectations (except for RF, who should just stay away from Baroque as far as I’m concerned). It’s not the first time Amazon reviews are nothing like I feel about a recording.

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    • Christie has tended to be all about form, which may be why his wheelhouse is really the French baroque. He’s never someone I’d go to for Handel if I were looking for really badass Handel.

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  2. It must be said that this recording is not helped by the very muffled work of the sound engineers. But indeed it’s quite a bland affair. I love Christie but infuse drama is not his forte. The singers don’t help either. The only one who seems to play the role is Dessay’s Morgana. Alcina is an opera with such strong emotions that I even prefer the vocally imperfect (and staging-ly fascinating but debatable) DVD of the Stuttgart opera (with Naglestad in the title role) to more pedigree renderings.

    Alcina still needs a “perfect” recording IMO. Hickox’s (with Auger) still stands quite well the test of time, still it can not satisfy those who want a more modern and theatrical approach. Curtis’, the most recent, has the powerhouse DiDonato as Alcina, who tries to squeeze every possible moment of drama from the score. Perhaps the best recording to this day, it also leans on the bland side (Curtis is another that has problems in conveying theatre). The most recent Alcina production is actually a DVD with a powerful cast and a conductor (Minkowski) that never had the forementioned problems, so probably it’s the best choice for those who want to hear some action, but the staging is frankly quite ugly and boring, and not all singers reach the expectations.

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    • Cheers for the thoughtful post, Luca 🙂 I pretty much agree with all you said, except I didn’t think the Minkowski/Noble production was ugly. I am also very fond of the Stuttgart production and I was never quite sure why so many people were put off by it.

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      • Thanks! 🙂 I’m sure they were put off by the occasional nudity and the unconventional way of representing the story. I agree that sometimes it’s forced but I found the idea of staging the enchanted island of Alcina as a dilapidated palace a stroke of genius.

        Perhaps ugly is too harsh a word for the Minkowski production, but I’d still call it uninspiring.

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    • perhaps i could also add the radio broadcast has quite more superior sound than the muffled edition from the camera-recorders (that came with dvd release) for the Wien production. also that some singers were quite more well recorded on radio/dvd than heard live.
      hickox/auger: looks like i need to hunt for this.. but i’m confused: which one are we talking about? apparently there’re 2: 1 with a drawing of her holding crystal ball (which i’ve been hunting for) and one with a real Auger holding crystal ball (which my library has)

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      • auger/hickox: maybe you need to start with the one from the library and see if you like it. I have a VHS rec from Basel (?) on my busted hard drive with the same cast (or mostly the same, all the principals).

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        • making my way to the one with Arleen Auger holding the crystal ball recording.. the orchestra could reallly use some jolt!!

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          • that’s not too bad. Have you heard some Handel recorded in the ’60s? It’s so odd it’s almost funny. Especially when the castrato part are taken by baritones.

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            • actually once i got past the first 15min… it improved! but it’s true we’re very spoiled with how baroque music is performed now.. i quite like all singings.. except for the aria “la bocca vaga” where it sounds too.. tamed.. though admit i’ve never read the translation.. but only image i have in head is the down-right “ugly” verbal abuse VK gave while stalking bramadante around the stage.. every performance she hunted her down differently you feel truly sorry for bradamante!
              also, takes a bit to get used to how high Ruggiero sounds.. but “Mi lusinga il dolce affetto” was quite touching.. and of course i quite like “si son quella”.. the male parts were also fine, though the bass has this echo giving the image he’s singing down from the sky 😀

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              • verbal abuse is right in La bocca vaga, Ruggiero is bullying “Ricciardo” to lay off his woman 😉 The lyrics are along the lines of “that sexy mouth, those beautiful eyes – you can’t have them so fuck off!” Agreed that Della Jones was going for beauty of sound more than VK (ever) did.

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            • ps- my hausmate has a recording of “i capuleti e i montecchi” with pavaroti singing! i very politely decline “no thanks” to listening…

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      • But Aragall was a tenor, too, so isn’t the end result the same?

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  3. This was one of the first recordings of Alcina I heard – I keep meaning lately to listen to it again, but I’ve never been able to work up the excitement. I have the same reaction as you to RF in these Handel roles (Rodelinda, Alcina): she always sounds like “Renée Fleming singing the role of Rodelinda” rather than giving herself over to the role.

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