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George Friedrich Händel: Partenope (Chandos - 2005) 3 CDs

Posted By: Flush
George Friedrich Händel: Partenope (Chandos - 2005) 3 CDs

George Friedrich Händel: Partenope | 2005 | Genre: Classical, Opera
APE 1411 kbps | 44100 HZ Stereo | 823 MB

Scattered throughout Handel's long & productive career in Italian opera are several works which challenge the notion of opera seria as invariably heroic & ultra-serious - works like the early 'Agrippina'(1709) & the late 'Serse'(1739).
Like them, 'Partenope'(1730) has a distinct flavor of ironic comedy, which allows Handel to compose a fine score that moves sure-footedly between serious passion & a lighter (though never farcical) view of the foibles of human beings in love. (In his notes to the present set, David Vickers likens 'Partenope' to Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night.) In this, he's helped greatly by the libretto (after Silvio Stampiglia), one of the best he ever set. Altogether, 'Partenope' is a delightful work that deserves to be far better known.
This, the second complete commercial recording of 'Partenope' (see below), is a success. The orchestra of the Early Opera Company - at a basic size of 18 players - makes a positive CD debut under their founder/conductor Christian Curnyn with a well-paced & -played reading of the score, & provide a firm foundation for a strong cast of soloists, who moreover show welcome restraint & good taste in their ornamentation. Soprano Rosemary Joshua (Partenope) gives an outstanding performance, lovely vocally & lively dramatically; counter-tenor Lawrence Zazzo (as her suitor Arsace) is also excellent. As Arsace's jilted lover Rosmira, the dark-voiced alto Hilary Summers excels in the serious arias of jealousy & anger, perhaps less so in the more playful moments. Also, the decision to have her adopt a 'straight' vocal tone when in her male disguise as Eurimene - ie. for 3/4 of the piece - makes it difficult to distinguish her from the 2 counter-tenors in many of the long recitative scenes.
If I have one reservation about this performance, it's that the dramatic irony in the piece is often underplayed, especially in some of the more complicated scenes - for instance, those of Rosmira's repeated public taunting of Arsace (who has unwisely promised not to reveal her true identity).
Turn to the 1979 recording (released on CD in 1990) conducted by Sigiswald Kuijken & to my ears you hear more of the distinct bittersweet, semicomic flavor of 'Partenope.' In particular, both women are outstanding: Kristina Laki is a charming Partenope & Helga Mueller-Molinari a high-spirited Rosmira who enlivens every scene she's in with crisp, forward diction. And the rest of the cast, generally lighter-voiced than on the new recording, is also fine, though admittedly not everyone will warm to Rene Jacobs's voice or style in the role of Arsace. But what really makes this one of my all-time favorite Handel opera recordings is the playing of La Petite Bande under Kuijken: the rhythmic verve is infectious, the shaping of each number impeccable. [Note: This set is not currently available in the U.S. Try amazon.de] In every other respect, however, this new version is a worthy successor & very enjoyable.

Nicholas A. Deutsch