Founded in 1719 by a group of aristocrats, and based at the King's Theatre, this was a musical venture whose audacious aim was to make London the centre of the operatic world via Italian opera, sung exclusively in Italian. Appointed as Music Director was Georg Friedrich Haendel – neither Italian nor English, but an exciting talent with ambitions in the operatic domain, and recently landed in London after four years in Italy honing his operatic skills and making key contacts.
Further names were then lured over from Italy itself: notably the composers Attilio Ariosti and Giovanni Battista Bononcini (whose skills as strings players also raised the virtuosic level of the orchestral music), and star singers such as the castrato Francisco Bernardi Senesino, and sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni; and with such an array of names and talent, success duly followed, because over the course of nine years, the Royal Academy staged no fewer than thirty-four operas, including masterpieces of Handel's such as Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Ottone and Radamisto.
Zaïcik's portrait of this Royal Academy of Music is mostly Handel-shaped, but punctuated by the world premiere recordings of three arias by Ariosti and Bononcini, including two from Ariosti's 1723 hit, Coriolano. Still, the main take-home point from this superb album is not its world premieres, enjoyable as they are, but the musical performances themselves, because the whole presentation is wonderful from first note to last. Zaïcik herself is sublime: golden-voiced, with the subtlest of soft halos around her lower registers, contrasting against crystal bright upper notes, and with a wonderful silky mellifluousness to even the most acrobatically leaping of lines. By way of illustration, one could pick any of these arias, but for a slower aria you could head to the aching “Ah! Tu non sai” from Handel's Ottone, where the lucid textures allow you to particularly appreciate the sensitive playing of Le Consort - themselves are elegantly led by another rising young name, Baroque violinist Théotime Langlois de Swarte, whose recent solo album The Mad Lover with lutenist Thomas Dunford also warrants repeated listening. Then to hear both Le Consort and Zaïcik making neat work of a virtuosic showpiece, skip to the concluding Agitato da fiere tempeste from Handel's Riccardo.
All that said, the best advice is actually to not skip around at all. Instead, listen from beginning to end. Then repeat.