There was a time, not long ago, when Baroque scores were treated as a folio of performance suggestions, not as the letter of the law. Performers felt free to add music or (more often) to take it away, and to do other things which were quite different from what the composer originally had in mind. Sir Thomas Beecham had no qualms about performing surgery on the music of George Frideric Handel, a composer he absolutely adored. No disrespect was intended. In fact, Beecham loved Handel so much, he wanted everyone else to love him too. That meant making him more palatable for modern tastes – bigger and leaner, at the same time.
In the heyday of the Hamburg Baroque Opera (1697-1718) Keiser played with his own compositions approximately the entire game plan. Keiser is the composer to whom the opera at the Gänsemarkt has remained connected for the longest time; his name and more than 100 opera works are synonymous with the Hamburg baroque opera.
Masaniello furioso or "The Neopolitan Fishermen's Disaster" was created in 1706. Barthold Feind, the well-known Hamburg dramatist, created the libretto, but leaned on a true story from 1663: The revolt of the fisherman Tommaso Aniello against the foreign rule of the Spaniards in Naples, his victory and the sudden dramatic turn of madness and the execution of the hero. For the Baroque opera, which otherwise preferred to use mythology, this stuff is certainly strong tobacco. Keizer recognized this opportunity by writing his most imaginative and colorful score.
Thomas Rajna completed his cycle of Granados’s solo piano music within a year – 1976. As if to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of their original appearance on CRD LPs Brilliant Classics has returned the cycle to the market-place. It’s in one slim box containing six nicely filled CDs and with extensive notes from Bryce Morrison. Nothing could be finer. Rajna was an expert advocate for Granados’s music and though recordings since have come – and gone – his have maintained an honoured place in the memory; and now, thankfully, in the disc drawer. And this is all the more so as so few are performed in public with any great conviction, beyond the obvious Goyescas and maybe Escenas Poeticas and Escenas Romanticas.
Keiser dominated the Hamburg opera scene between 1697, when Adonis was first performed, and 1717, resuming activities there some six years later. Christian Postel’s plot centres around Ovid’s celebrated account of the love affair between Adonis and Venus, who, in this version of the story is jealously watched over by Mars. Postel’s libretto is very long-winded and not well-sustained; but it offered Keiser the opportunity to provide over three-and-a-half hours of music, much of which, especially in Act III, is of enormous charm and variety. The score is a stylistic melting pot containing French and Italian ingredients as well as those of the German Lied. Some of the most beguiling music belongs to the minor roles – ‘Klagt, ihr Nymphen’ (Act III, Scene 9) brings to mind Purcell, and is among the most memorable of the arias. If the entire piece seems a daunting prospect, fear not, since arias from four of Keiser’s operas, including Adonis – though the booklet wrongly attributes one of these arias to a non-existent fourth act – appear on a single disc, sung with accomplishment and charm by Elisabeth Scholl with La Ricordanza. But the other offers a much more satisfying picture of Keiser’s ability as a dramatic composer.Nicholas Anderson