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Handel once famously threatened to throw the singer Francesca Cuzzoni out of a window, yet his operas suggest he was usually more sympathetic to women. Certainly many of his female protagonists are portrayed as smart, resourceful characters, with emotional depths rarely found in the typical baroque heroine. Roberta Invernizzi’s new disc features seven such feisty monarchs, though its title also refers to Handel’s longest serving divas, Cuzzoni and Anna Maria Strada del Pò, who reigned over the London opera scene for nearly 15 years (1723–28 and 1729–37, respectively): each of the 11 arias on this disc was premiered by one or the other.

Invernizzi offers a mostly winning selection of the celebrated (four arias by Cleopatra, one by Alcina) and the less familiar. The CD begins brilliantly with Adelaide (Lothario) defying fate in the thrilling and tuneful ‘Scherza in mar la navicella’, before Cleofide (Poro) reaffirms her constancy in ‘Se mai turbo il tuo riposo’, a lovely example of Handel’s gift for elusive yet haunting melody. Of the other lesser-known arias – from Scipione, Giustino and Berenice – only the pair from the latter, Handel’s least successful opera, seem ill-chosen, their music less engaging, despite Invernizzi’s excellent singing. She’s in superb voice throughout, perfectly capturing Cleopatra’s allure— from the skipping delight of ‘Da tempesta’ to the soulful anguish of ‘Se pietà’—and heartbreaking in Alcina’s desolate lament, ‘Ah mio cor’. Accademia Hermans provide graceful, sprightly support, although they can perhaps sound underpowered at times.

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing