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John W Barker
American Record Guide, May 2009

Hasse was one of the most admired operatic composers of his day. Many of his scores have been lost; those that survive may not rank him above Handel, but they are worthy (and more typical) embodiments of baroque operatic style, and they are full of very fine music. Such quality is embodied in this opera and well projected in this recording.

Kirkby in her young prime gives an ideal portrayal of feminine purity and nobility, while Mellon is a worthy partner. The three countertenors acquit themselves well; Ragin has strong personality and Visse plenty of style. The only weak link is soprano Wong, who is pallid and unsteady. Christie probes the score with his usual intelligence, and the sound remains excellent.

Those who have the original Capriccio set should cherish it. For others, if this “highlights” skimming is the best revival of it we can get, it is better than nothing, but we really must hope for a reissue of the full set. [Capriccio C10193–96]



Raymond Tuttle
Classical Net, May 2009

The singers don’t fail to perform with temperament, evoking the good ol’ days of dueling divos and divas. Kirkby is the bright embodiment of purity and guilelessness, and Derek Lee Ragin is no less characterful, successfully depicting the conflicting emotions of the Indian ruler. With William Christie at the helm, it is not surprising that the singers and the Cappella Coloniensis go from strength to strength as the CD progresses. Kudos also go to the horn player, who appropriately is asked to point up the hunting analogy in Alessandro’s aria “Cervo al bosco” (Deer in the woods).

Those who enjoy Handel’s operas will enjoy this too, because stylistically, they are very close. This all-star cast gives Cleofide its all, and this is very enjoyable.



Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, May 2009

This is a reissue of excerpts from the May 1986 complete recording of Hasse’s Cleofide issued on LPs by Capriccio (and later on four CDs, Capriccio C10193–96). I owned the original LPs and, although I was impressed by certain moments in the score that seemed to look forward to Haydn, overall I found the music more decorative and entertaining than truly inspired. This reduction, then, is particularly welcome as an introduction to a work that is more of a historical curiosity than a living opera worthy of revival.

At the time I purchased the set, only Kirkby, Mellon, and Visse were known quantities to me. William Christie was establishing himself in France, and the wonderful singing of the other countertenors—Wong, Ragin, and Cordier—was a revelation. Indeed, upon relistening to this recording I was as much if not more impressed with their singing, distinctly and individually colored and diverse in tonal variance, than I was with the women, much as I adore Kirkby and always will. Nowadays, we have a few countertenors who can produce work on this high of a level (particularly David Daniels, Andreas Scholl, and Philippe Jarousky), but for the most part the countertenor breed has declined into a sameness of hooty falsetto tone with no interpretive skill or variance.

Pride of place goes to Wong, who ironically gets one of the smaller parts in the opera. Considering its brevity, I was disappointed that Phoenix Edition did not include the short duet between Kirkby and Wong, which, for me, was one of the highlights of the set, but the inclusion of Wong’s aria, “Appena amor sen nace,” will undoubtedly stun and confuse modern listeners as much as it did me in 1987. Wong, like Russell Oberlin, does not sound like a countertenor. Oberlin sounded like a female mezzo-soprano. Wong sounds like a female soprano, so much so that I defy anyone not familiar with his voice to identify this aria in a blindfold test as being sung by a male. I wonder what became of him…Ragin and Visse provide some of the most dramatically varied and musically interesting moments in the opera, particularly Visse’s splendid aria, “Cervo al bosco,” which features some incredibly adept valveless horn-playing by an unidentified musician, although the Kirkby/Mellon duet that concludes act I is also superb.



Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, March 2009

The cast on this disc is superb and we cannot ask for a better showcase for Hasse’s talent. The title role is taken by Emma Kirkby, on superb form. She does not have the type of voice that you associate with a baroque diva. Her best Handelian role is the lighter character of Dorinda the shepherdess in Orlando. Here she takes the title role, Cleofide; a role sung by Bordoni. I would suspect that Bordoni was able to bring darker tones and a more dramatic delivery. But there is no gainsaying the sheer brilliance of Kirkby’s technique; in all of her arias she is simply ravishing. You never get the feeling that she is mining real depths of feeling, but this seems to be Hasse’s fault rather than hers. Kirkby gets the lion’s share of the excerpts with three arias and a duet with Poro.

Derek Lee Ragin’s Poro gets two arias plus the duet with Kirkby. Ragin is on form here, dazzling with his coloratura and very, very dramatic with his tone. Ragin uses the different colours of his various registers to dramatic effect. He is not a counter-tenor who attempts to blend his registers seamlessly. Whilst I would not want to hear everyone doing this, Ragin does provide a distinctive voice in the drama.

The other singers get a single aria each. Randall Wong’s Gandarte is sung with an astounding male soprano voice and with a lovely bright tone. He is, however, rather careful with his passagework. David Cordier sings Timagene with a warm mezzo-soprano tone which is attractive but rather feminine.  Like Wong, Cordier is rather careful with the passagework and displays a little strain at the top. His aria is accompanied by a lovely obbligato flute. Dominique Visse, as Alessandro, has a rather darker voice with a slightly hollow tone. His aria includes a stunning obbligato horn, the singer apparently unphased by the part’s high tessitura.

The counter-tenors seem to have been chosen for their variety so that, on a long complete recording, it becomes easy to tell them apart—something record companies tend to forget when casting opera seria.

Agnes Mellon makes a lovely Erissena, singing with a light bright voice, which is not that different from Kirkby’s. Not a problem on this highlights disc, but I imagine it might become a problem on the complete recording.

The CD booklet has a rather bald plot summary but no texts. So if you want to know what's happening in the arias on the disc, I'm afraid you are going to have to do some research.

William Christie makes a good case for Hasse’s music and he is well supported by Cappella Coloniensis. For anyone interested in what Handel’s younger contemporaries were doing, I have no hesitation in directing you to this attractive and finely sung disc.



Stephen Eddins
Allmusic.com, March 2009

The vocalists each sing expressively and each solo is carefully shaped…Emma Kirkby is the most persuasive in the title role; although her soprano isn’t large, she sings with purity and focus. Male soprano Randall K. Wong and counter tenor Dominique Visse are also effective, with strong technique and free coloratura. Soprano Agnes Mellon and counter tenor Derek Lee Ragin sing well in their high register, but tend to lack support at the bottom of their range. The sound is clean, if a little shallow.




Robert Levine
ClassicsToday.com, February 2009

This release presents about 78 of the original 231 minutes contained on the 4-CD set that appeared on the Capriccio label in 1988. The original set’s release was a real ear-opener—certainly the first recorded complete opera by Hasse (1699–1783, roughly contemporary with Bach and Handel) and possibly, outside of Mozart’s and Handel’s, the first opera seria to receive a complete recording. (It is based on Metastasio, has the same characters as Handel’s Poro, and concerns Alexander the Great.) I thought at the time that while Hasse might not be the equal of either Mozart or Handel, it was easy to understand why he was in fact the most popular opera composer of his time in Italy, Germany, and Austria: his melodies, whether lachrymose, triumphant, or of the simile variety ("My emotions are as a storm-tossed ship"), are catchy and entertaining, and if performed with the virtuosity with which they were composed, capture the ear and imagination.

I listened over and over again to the original CDs, fascinated by the six high voices, four of which are men’s and all of which are capable of executing long, complicated coloratura as well as handsome melodies. Nowadays, those singers seem a dime a dozen, but they were rare then—and they’re still a joy to listen to.

Emma Kirkby sings the title role (composed for Hasse’s wife, Faustina Bordoni, who was one of Handel’s star singers in London), and it is possible that a more dramatic sound was wished for—but most of her music is of the tragic, "why me?" variety (she is innocent of the infidelity of which her husband, Poro, suspects her) and she sings it with beautiful tone and great introspection. Male alto Dominique Visse sings Alessandro, and here he dazzles with his seven-minute aria in which he compares himself to a wounded stag, accompanied by wonderfully played hunting horns. Poro is alto Derek Lee Ragin, with a more ferocious sound, who almost hectors his poor wife to distraction, often with long-breathed runs. Male soprano Randall Wong sounds exactly like a woman—and a very gifted one—as Gandarte, Poro’s friend; David Cordier’s grainy alto is good for the general, Timagenes; and Agnes Mellon as Poro’s sister Erissena is wonderfully feminine. William Christie and the Capella Coloniensis are superb.

I wish this had been a 2-CD set of extracts; out of the 30-plus arias in the original, we only get nine, plus the overture, a march, duet, and final chorus. Still, if you don’t own or want (or can’t find) the original four-CD set, this is a delightful chunk of music, stunningly performed.






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11:04:56 AM, 14 July 2014
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