I shall depart from my usual review style - which is mostly stylistic evaluation of the singing - to discuss this obscure recording in greater depth.
As I saw this item on the shelf - and not for the first time - I debated the long-deferred purchase. I knew none of the singers - truly a rarity for me - and all the male roles were sung by women. After two decades of counter-tenor advocacy, today I am much more open to feminine interpretations of castrato roles (I credit Nathalie Stutzmann and Sonia Prina for swinging my vote). Furthermore, not only is this the only recording of this Handel opera I have ever seen for sale, but the same company, with mostly the same singers, also gives us the only recording of another Handel opera, another Attic myth, Orestes. Finally, considering their third Handel offfering, Tamerlano, with its Greek inclusion (Andronico), I smiled to realize that this conductor was making a case for specifically Greek incursion into this composer's Greek incursions. At the end of the day, factoring in this recording's excellent natural acoustics (MDG's signature work) and unreasonably reasonable price tag - $20 for 3 CD's (!!!), led me to take the plunge into the darkness framed by ignorance and lack and buy it.
Arianna in Creta (1733-34) was one of the first operas Handel wrote for his company after all of his singers, with the exception of soprano Anna Maria Strada del Po, departed to the rival Opera of the Nobility. Among the replacements was the castrato Carestini, for whom he later created the role of Ariodante (Philippe Jaroussky performs arias from both of these operas on his tribute disk to this singer under Emmanuelle Haïm's baton). Another interesting cast inclusion was Margherita Durastanti in the mezzo role of Tauride, who performed for Handel in Rome three decades earlier(!) as his prima donna (soprano). For those who follow the under-threads of opera, be they thematic or historical or performer-based, this opera fills in some gaps.
Mata Katsui sings Arianna with perfect "virgin-loveliness" (keeping in mind that Greek virgins kick ass when they need to :) and her voice is both sweet and fierce by turns.
The mezzo role of Teseo (Theseus) is sung by the alarmingly beautiful Mary-Ellen Nesi. Dark and sultry in tone, her coloratura is lightning; think Catherine Robbin and Cecelia Bartoli each donating an egg to create a girl opera child.
The soprano role of Alceste (Hercules) is a theatrical dud, as is his amante, Carilda (written for the singer who later was Bradamante in Alcina) - it's one of those annoying 18th century multiple misunderstandings plot fodder things - but s/he gets the absolutely best aria in the opera, "Son qual stanco Pellegrin" with a lovely cello obbligato such as Vivaldi might have penned. A great 8 minutes that justifies the entire purchase. The role is sung by Theodora Baka who gets the melancholic affect just right and then, moments later, does a bright triumph aria with true glow. A singer to watch....
At the end of this maze I found the following monster: " Arianna" is a hyrid, some recycled arias, some "Handel lite" and some great Handel; some amazing interpretations by women and some heavy-set contralto sounds that displease my ear. In the top world of iTunes, I made my cuts (28 tracks down from 60) and find myself trapped in their loop, caught up in their wings again and again.