Act III Alessandro
By Sophie Boulin
Happy Hump Day, Handel Homies!
To celebrate the long weekend, now tantalisingly visible, here’s a real gem from the veritable treasure chest that comprises Handel’s operas.
Alessandro was Handel’s twenty-first opera, the half-way point of his operatic output before he ditched the form altogether for the much more lucrative pastures of the new craze, oratorio. The libretto by Paolo Rolli is based on Ortensio Mauro’s epic tale, La superbia d’Alessandro. It was an instant success with all thirteen of the 1726 performances sold out. It had two revivals, 1727 & 1732, which also proved very lucrative for the composer.
Unusually for our boy, Handel decided to take the piss; Alexander the Great isn’t quite sent up but he is certainly portrayed less than flatteringly – a bit of a blustering egotistical blunderer – and the lightness and swiftness of both the music and drama, lends itself very well to a comic interpretation, should the director view the work in this vein.
This is Rossane’s central Act III aria, cast for soprano, and it’s full of vim and fizz. Light, sparkling and swift. Typically, with lengthy rapid passagework, breath control is an added challenge for the singer. Here we have French Baroque specialist, Sophie Boulin, turning in a faultless and hugely enjoyable performance. Superb technique meets wit and charm and who could ask for more? The very best Baroque singers understand that clarity, purity and precision are essential in this repertoire and, perhaps more than in any other style of opera, the natural timbre and personal sound of the singer is much more apparent. Exposed, as they are, and undisguised by fat wide vibrato etc.
Tragically, Mz Boulin died in 2020 at just age sixty-nine. Much admired and respected by her peers, she took her art very seriously. Even specialising in Baroque body language as a dancer to add richness and authenticity to her work.
This performance is from the 1985 recording headed up by Sijiswald Kuijken and his La Petite Band on Harmonia Mundi. Kuijken did decent Handel work in the 80s and often cast singers just before they went on to bigger and better things so I’d strongly recommend this recording. I notice it is still available separately at a steal on Amazon so you don’t need to try and find the box set from which my own copy comes. There’s only George Petrou’s recording on Decca currently in print if you want an alternative. I haven’t heard it myself but it features Karina Gauvin so I’ll definitely pick it up at some point.