A dream recording of Handel's operatic masterpiece
This new 3-cd set of Giulio Cesare, with Il Complesso Barocco conducted as ever by Handel speciliast, Alan Curtis, an unqualified triumph, both sonically and musically.
French Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux is stunning in the title role. She turns in a towering performance, full of passion, fire and masculine swagger. Sample her richly textured singing of the great hunting aria, Va tacito e nascosto (CD 1 track 26), the splendid obbligato horn passages well to the fore, not least in the fine cadenza that rounds it off so triumphantly.
As Cleopatra, Lemieux's compatriot, Karina Gauvin, is predictably ravishing. Sustaining her reputation as today's reigning queen of Handel opera performance, the soprano successfully runs the gambit of emotions the role demands through each of the eight glorious arias Handel wrote for his muse, the great Italian prima donna, Francesca Cuzzoni.
Madame Gauvin's heart-stopping singing in the opera's famous seduction number, V'adoro, pupille, is the loveliest I've heard. Ditto her heartfelt renderings of her two great laments, Se pieta, and Piangero, la sorte mia; she turns in a delicately etched performance of La tua mia stella sei and a spectacular account of Cleopatra's final show-stopper, Da tempeste il legno infranto.
Romina Basso's gravely beautiful contralto is admirably suited to the music of the widow, Cornelia, and contrasts effectively with the youthful sounding soprano of Emöke Baráth as her son, Sesto. The rest of the cast do not disappoint.
Maestro Curtis himself wrote the superb embellishments for the da capo sections of the arias in this remarkable set, and one's listening is significantly enhanced by an edifying programme note by Olivier Rouvière and a lucid translation of the opera's libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym.
Well worth the wait, this highly recommended release endorses the accolade Naïve received at the 2012 Gramophone Awards as Label of the Year.
REVIEW BY WILLIAM CHARLTON-PERKINS , 9 JANUARY 2013