Despite its rather bizarre Scottish setting, Ariodante is one of Handel’s more convincing opera seria with a plot lifted from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. No magic here, no cross-dressing – just a highly effective tale of love, jealousy and betrayal. As a result it has held its own on the stage and there are fine recordings against which to measure this newcomer. Alan Curtis has had a long, perhaps hit-and-miss career championing lesser-known Handel, but in this case I am pleased to announce a palpable hit.
Il Complesso Barocco is in excellent form with vigorous but flexible tempi and ravishing orchestral colour. And this recording is blessed with no less than three quite perfect female voices. Heading the list is probably the greatest Handel mezzo of today: Joyce DiDonato in superlative voice, thrilling in attack and responsive to text. Her great Act 2 aria, Scherza infida, is utterly riveting and most moving.
The other cast members are not overshadowed in the slightest. Ginevra is given an intense and elegant reading by the remarkable Karina Gauvin, bringing a refreshing depth to her character, while the insinuating Polinesso is sung with great panache by silky-toned contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux. There are excellent performances too by Sabina Puértolas as a spunky Dalinda and Brisbane-born Finnish tenor Topi Lehtipuu as Ariodante’s loyal brother. If I had one criticism it would be that four such feisty female voices lend an occasional sameness to the dramatic flow, but that is a minor quibble in what I would imagine will be a strong contender for major awards.