Emma Bell - Handel - Atlanta Audio Society

In time for the holidays, I can't think of a more perfect gift for the opera buff on your list than this program of Operatic Arias by George Frideric Handel, exquisitely sung by the engaging young soprano Emma Bell. In this rich selection of florid arias, Ms. Bell is superbly supported by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Richard Egarr. Included are arias from Handel's best Italian operas, including Rinaldo, Amadigi, Rodelinda, Ariodane, Lotario, Scipione, and Radamisto.

High-flown exalted rhetoric and a range of constantly conflicting emotions - pride and amorous desire, scorn and attraction - characterize Handel's operatic heroines and distinguish them from the more naturalistic heroines of romantic opera. "I will summon from Hell," says Melissa in "Desterò dall empia Dite" from Amadigi, "Every Fury to make war on these heartless traitors." It is a perfectly formed da capo aria. Elsewhere, as in "M'hai resa infelice" (You have brought me misery) from Deidamia, Handel adapts the form from ABA to ABAB, with both largo and allegro sections sumptuously decorated upon the repeats.

Cleopatra's "Piangerò la sorte mia" (I will lament my fate) from Giulio Cesare is one of Handel's greatest arias. Here, the woman of spirit (recalling Shakespeare's heroine, "all fire and air") really emerges in the middle section from the enfolding lament. And how flawlessly Bell hits that top note in Rodelinda's magnificent "Ombre piante" (sombre groves)! The scorn she expresses in Ginevra's "Orrida a gl'occhi miei" (How horrid to my eyes) from Ariodante would not make anyone envy that proud lady's unwelcome suitor!

Beautifully recorded by producer Tim Oldham and chief engineer Philip Hobbs in Edinburgh's Usher Hall, this SACD is a jewel of an offering. At 51:24, the program is just the right length for a vocal recital.

Atlanta Audio Society
01 December 2005