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Favourites, Handel Operas

Handel OperasHandel composed nearly fifty operas, but until relatively recently they remained significantly underpresented on record. Though a handful of operatic arias (often sung in translation) cropped up on recital-discs during the 50s and 60s, complete recordings of most of the operas were comparatively rare until the last two decades of the twentieth century, when conductors such as Charles Mackerras, Sigiswald Kuijken, John Eliot Gardiner and Christopher Hogwood began to commit their interpretations to disc. (Giulio Cesare, still probably Handel's best-known work for the stage, is a notable exception, with over forty recordings having appeared since 1950!)

Alan Curtis, Marc Minkowski, René Jacobs and Diego Fasolis are among the leading lights in current Handel performance (both live and on disc), with relative newcomers such as Christian Curnyn, George Petrou and Jonathan Cohen also making their mark in the last couple of years.

Complete Operas

Justly garlanded with awards aplenty, David McVicar's 2005 Glyndebourne production offers a witty, imaginative post-colonial take on Handel's best-known opera. Sarah Connolly is the definitive Caesar, whilst Danielle de Niese's high-glamour, all-singing-all-dancing Cleopatra catapulted her to stardom. William Christie directs with his customary energy and insight in the pit.

Available Format: 3 DVD Videos

There are so many fine Cesares on CD, but of the recent crop I return most often to Marc Minkowski's 2002 recording, with a young Magdalena Kožená crossing over into soprano territory most effectively as Cleopatra, and Anne Sofie von Otter and Charlotte Hellekant superb as the bereaved Sesto and Cornelia.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Even if opera in English translation (or baroque opera on modern instruments) doesn't usually grab you, Charles Mackerras's legendary 1979 remains unmissable, not least for Dame Janet Baker's supremely authoritative Caesar, Sarah Walker's stately Cornelia and John Tomlinson's blustery Achilla.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

James Bowman, one of the first great modern countertenors, is the tormented hero on this classic 1989 studio recording from Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, with Arleen Augér exuding her usual class as his beloved Angelica and Emma Kirkby as the shepherdess Dorinda.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Replacing an indisposed Sarah Connolly at short notice, Anglo-French mezzo Anna Stéphany stamps her own authority and temperament on the title-role on Christian Curnyn's new recording of Serse with the Early Opera Company, starring David Daniels as Arsamene and Rosemary Joshua as Romilda.

Available Formats: 3 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

I had a very hard time alighting on a single favourite for this one: in the final analysis, though, Anne Sofie von Otter's bright-toned, nobly sung hero (dispatching the big bravura numbers at superhuman speed!) and Polish contralto Ewa Podles's splendidly villainous Polinesso tip the balance in favour of Marc Minkowski's 1997 recording.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

I'd heartily recommend any and all of Alan Curtis's many Handel opera recordings with Il Complesso Barocco, but he makes an especially strong case for this little-performed early opera, with the formidable Serbian contralto Marijana Mijanovic in the title-role and Joyce DiDonato as his beloved Elmira.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Released earlier this year, this recording from Il Pomo d'Oro and Riccardo Minasi boasts an exceptionally strong cast, not least John Mark Ainsley's nuanced Bajazet and Max Cencic's charismatic Andronico. In the title-role Xavier Sabata's surprisingly sweet tone is no barrier to his credibility as the volatile tyrant.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC


Mark Padmore's plangent tone and elegant phrasing make him one of the most in-demand Handel tenors of today, particularly acclaimed as Samson and Jephtha, and in Messiah; this BBC Music Award-winning collection includes arias from these three and more. Classy accompaniment from The English Concert under Andrew Manze.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

The great American mezzo, who died aged just 52 in 2006, was one of the most eloquent Handel interpreters of her time; this disc centres on the dramatic cantata La Lucrezia and generous excerpts from her most celebrated role, Irene in Theodora. Harry Bicket directs the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

British bass Christopher Purves not only gives a masterclass in characterisation in this collection of opera and oratorio arias, but also showcases a formidable range of nearly three octaves in the fiendishly difficult scene from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo. Equally characterful support from young ensemble Arcangelo under Jonathan Cohen.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC