Enough to Make Handel Reach for His Walkman
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
During the late 1720's Handel had two rival prima donnas in the London opera company he ran: Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni. From all reports both were superb sopranos and powerful artists with big personalities. Like the savvy showman he was, Handel stoked the rivalry by including tailor-made roles for each of them in several of his operas. The public loved it. Warring Cuzzoni and Bordoni fans routinely interrupted performances with competing ovations and catcalls.
Whether by intention or not, two leading vocal artists of today, the mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and the soprano Renée Fleming, have new individual recordings of Handel arias. Ms. Hunt Lieberson's program was recently released on the Avie label (part of G&H Music); Ms. Fleming's Decca CD will officially be released next week. Given that both singers are joined by the same team of collaborators - the British conductor and expert Handelian Harry Bicket and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, a dynamic period-instrument ensemble - voice aficionados may well view these new recordings as being in direct competition.
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