Tim Ashley 

Handel: Alceste – review

These vocal and orchestral numbers don't really hang together but the Early Opera Company do wonderful things with them anyway, says Tim Ashley

Handel's Alceste is an unusual piece with a vexed history. It consists of the incidental music – Handel's only work in the genre – for a version of Euripides' Alcestis by Tobias Smollett, though the texts for the songs were more likely to be the work of Thomas Morell, the librettist of Theodora. The project was abandoned, probably for financial reasons, before it reached the stage. Smollett's play was subsequently lost, and all that remains is a set of vocal and orchestral numbers that don't really hang together as a sequence, however ravishing they may be individually. Christian Curnyn and his Early Opera Company do wonderful things with them, though. There's a real sense of ceremonial majesty in the choruses, and the solo singing is exceptionally fine. Benjamin Hulett tackles his exacting coloratura numbers with great elegance, while Andrew Foster-Williams has fun as Charon, a character added by Smollett, whose adaptation was clearly very free. Best of all, though, is Lucy Crowe, who gets to sing Gentle Morpheus, Son of Night, one of the most beautiful things in Handel's entire output.


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