It could be argued that Händel’s Giulio Cesare is, in a sense, the La Bohème of Baroque opera: surely performed both more frequently and more widely afield than any of Händel’s other operas, Giulio Cesare is the most popular of Händel’s operas and the one that is most known even by audiences with limited exposure to Baroque opera. This familiarity led to the long-held assumption that Giulio Cesare was likewise the finest of Händel’s operatic scores, a supposition that has been challenged during the past two decades by more frequent – and more impressive – performances of Händel’s lesser-known operas…
It is a studio production with all the benefits of excellent acoustics, perfect balance, no disturbing noises from stage movements or audience reactions and the option to re-record momentary lapses. And there is another advantage: these studio sessions were based on a staged production at the Thesaloniki Concert Hall in March 2008! I suppose this is a misprint. If it is, this is the only error in this wholly delightful production.
The castrato in Italian opera of the early 18th century had vocal power that was often associated with heroic roles, but Handel wrote several memorable villains for the voice type as well. Indeed, using the castrato's star quality to add depth to his bad guys was one facet of his operatic genius, and the idea of collecting a group of these arias is good enough to recommend this album even apart from the vocal gifts of Spanish countertenor Xavier Sabata. And those gifts are considerable. Sabata is a true operatic countertenor, somewhat in the vein of Philippe Jaroussky (to whose album of Vivaldi heroic arias this release makes a fine companion).
Solo recitals of arias from Handel operas and oratorios are common, so it's a pleasure to hear an album devoted to his duets, particularly when they're performed as well as they are here by soprano Rosemary Joshua and mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly. Both have had diverse careers, but are known especially for their Baroque roles. Their voices are especially well-matched in weight, and their blend is beautifully warm, but they are each distinctive enough that they retain a strong vocal identity even when singing in close harmony.
Decca’s new release brings together five of the world’s most renowned countertenors, who bring the rich world of baroque opera to life. Once rarely heard, countertenors are now firmly established on the operatic stage and concert platform and their popularity has reached an all-time high. This album features virtuosic highlights from baroque opera and showcases the extraordinary abilities of five astonishing artists: Max Emanuel Cencic, Yuriy Mynenko, Valer Sabadus, Xavier Sabata and Vince Yi.