Handel: Serse - Alva, Freni, Cossotto, Panerai; Bellugi. Milano, 1962
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In a performance that plays hopscotch with Serse’s minimal libretto, glorious singing must carry the day. Fortunately it does. Piero Bellugi and the forces of the Teatro Piccolo Scala reorder, cut, and fiddle with Handel’s opera until it is practically impossible to follow the action, but even so, the presence of Mirella Freni, Fiorenza Cossotto and Luigi Alva make this a must-hear for Handel fans not too reliant of Historically informed performance practice. Freni sings her challenging arias (what remain of them, anyway) like a dream, her creamy, supple soprano showing remarkable flexibility, and Cossotto is exciting and charming, even if she is singing a high soprano role transposed down. Alva is in fluid and impeccable form, and there are strong contributions from Irene Campaneez and Franco Calabrese. Only Rolando Panerai’s booming baritone sounds out of place, and it is hardly his fault since he is being asked to sing music written for an alto castrato.