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Handel’s 1738 opera looks both back and forward – to 17 century Venice, with its tragi-comedy and buffoonery, its fast-moving action and short arias, and to Handel’s own later English oratorios, with their chaste, chordal, string-backed songs, and their pastoral background of dances framing the human drama. Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company capture these contrasts nicely in this punctilious, stylish and tasteful recording – which is to say, I could have used a bit more blood and guts, and a somewhat meatier orchestral sound. Otherwise, it is hard to take exception to a fine recording of a great work, with an ear for both the comedy and pathos of the piece. Anna Stéphany does a good job with the unstable Xerxes, snapping between sentimentality and psychopathy, and sings the part forcefully and with character. She gets good support from Rosemary Joshua, David Daniels, Hilary Summers and Joélle Harvey as a sparky Atalanta. Curnyn conducts with spirit, though things flag a bit at the beginning of Act 3.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica


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