There’s plenty to love about this new Alcina recording from Marc Minkowski and his ultra-stylish ensemble, Les Musiciens du Louvre. Begin with that signature sound, more robust than most period outfits and certainly less stately. Full-blooded performances are the name of the game, and their take on Handel’s tale of enchantment and thwarted passion is close to ideal.

So too is Magdalena Kožená in the title role. She’s less vocally brilliant than a Sutherland or DiDonato, but she is a consummate stylist and sings with real intensity. Her fine-grained mezzo is innately sympathetic, almost sweet, but there’s enough bite to make the moments of anguish and venom count. The role is mostly associated with sopranos, so there are moments of strain in her upper register. This hardly matters in the grand scheme of things, so committed is Kožená. A high point is the aria that closes Act II, Ombre pallide, which she suffuses with fear and desperation.

Anna Bonitatibus’s Ruggiero stands with the best of them, her dark, handsome instrument on full display in some of Handel’s finest operatic writing. She produces some heart-stopping moments of vocal beauty – try Mi lusinga, which glows in its simplicity – which is paired with a palpable dramatic conviction.

The rest of the cast provide strong support. Erin Morley brings the requisite sparkle as Morgana, the highflying accuracy of Tornami a vagheggiar another highlight, while Elizabeth DeShong invests Bradamante with a touching dignity and goodness, with thrilling low notes to boot. 

A very strong addition to the catalogue. 

Listen on Apple Music

Composer: Handel
Work: Alcina
Performers: Magdalena Kožená ms, Anna Bonitatibus ms, Erin Morley s, Elizabeth DeShong ms, Marc Minkowski/Les Musiciens du Louvre
Label: Pentatone PTC5187084 (3CD)

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