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Daily album review 4: Spectacular Handel Orlando includes a Canadian dream cast

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Karina Gauvin is one of the stars of a great new recording of Handel's Orlando (Bernard Brault/La Presse photo)
Karina Gauvin is one of the stars of a great new recording of Handel’s Orlando (Bernard Brault/La Presse photo)

A new recording of George Frideric Handel opera Orlando, made after a live performance at the Vancouver Early Music Festival in 2012, is one of the great pleasures among this fall’s releases, thanks to Montreal label ATMA Classique.

The joys start with a Canadian dream cast that includes soprano Karina Gauvin (Angelica), mezzo Allyson McHardy (Medoro) and bass Nathan Berg (Zoroastro).

Brilliant British countertenor Owen Willets gets the title role, while young American soprano Amanda Forsythe sings Dorinda.

Alexander Weimann, who has done a lot of fine work in Montreal, leads a crisply engaging performance by the 20-piece Pacific Baroque Orchestra from the keyboard.

The ensemble works together marvellously to bring to life one of Handel’s finest opera scores, born of the increasing difficulties faced by presenters of Italian opera in London in the early 1730s. The composer (and impresario) turned to one of the great epic poems of the 16th century — Ariosto’s Orlano furioso — for financial salvation.

The opera is filled with not just great solo arias, but with engaging ensemble work, giving it a dynamic flow.

The character of Zoroastro is new, introduced into the story as the voice of reason and enlightenment — similar to what Mozart would do in The Magic Flute nearly 60 years later.

orlandoThere isn’t a voice or instrument out of place in this recording. All three CDs are a pleasure from beginning to end, and the booklet includes the full libretto.

You’ll find all the details and audio samples here.

John Terauds

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