A warm welcome back for this 1977 recording of Handel’s most successful opera, which ran, in 1727, for an unprecedented 19 performances. Curtis and his team were visionary 20 years ago. Recitative is lively, declaimed rather than fully sung; vocal decorations sound spontaneous, period instruments are played with zest and polish – barely a sour note from the handful of strings; colours include a trio of oboes and bassoon and, accompanying Bowman in fine voice, a pair of horns for what Dr Burney described as ‘one of the best and most agreeable hunting songs that was ever composed’. Jacobs reflects the volatile title role, impassioned in his death-bed scene which opens the opera, virtuosic elsewhere, though his affected swoops become rather predictably mannered. Yakar and Gomez sing Alceste and Antigone, roles which Handel wrote for Faustina and Cuzzoni, whose jealous rivalry led them, on stage, to ‘call Bitch and Whore’ and ‘pull each other’s coiffs’! Here, Faustina could not more beautifully have ‘sung adagios with great passion and expression’ than Yakar, while Gomez surely matches Cuzzoni’s ability to ‘conceal every appearance of difficulty’ – contemporary descriptions of their outstanding powers. You may want to tweak tone controls to moderate the bright, remastered sound. (George Pratt BBC Music Magazine)
For the 1727 season – the waning days of opera's popularity in London – transplanted German composer George Frederick Handel wrote no less than three operas for the English capital's stage. Tolomeo, rè d'Egitto was the last and least enthusiastically received of them. Unsuccessfully revived in 1730 and then again in 1733, Tolomeo was unperformed for the next 200 years, and even now, it remains one of Handel's least performed and recorded operas. Prior to this Archiv set, only a 1995 Vox recording of the work with Richard Auldon Clark leading the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra had been released in the digital era.
Handel wrote Floridante in 1722 for a London audience infatuated with Italian opera. The plot, like that of so many Baroque operas, was taken from ancient history and concerns romantic liaisons thrown into turmoil by political rivalries, in this case between Persia and Tyre. Handel wrote over 50 Italian operas, and it's remarkable that he was consistently able to summon such a high level of inventiveness and inspiration when faced repeatedly with librettos that must have come to look depressingly alike in the conventions of their labyrinthine plots. Handel, however, had strong enough musical and dramatic convictions that he refused to make alterations to the score of Floridante that would have changed the opera's character, after London's Royal Academy of Music informed him that changes in the performing personnel would require him to rewrite the vocal parts. Handel eventually made some adjustments, but stood firm about others – a bold position, considering the relatively low status of composers in the world of opera at the time. After the premiere with a less-than-ideal cast, Handel restored the score to his original intentions and it's that version that's heard on this recording.
Alan Curtis continues his exemplary series of Handel operas for Archiv with Ezio, a 1732 work that has received few modern productions. Its initial limited success and failure to generate much interest until the late twentieth century may have to do with its length (over three hours), its preponderance of recitatives, and the composer's reluctance to use the voices together in ensembles, so that the entire opera, until the final chorus, consists of solo singing. Handel's gift for astute psychological insight and distinctive musical characterization is evident throughout the score, and the recitatives, which are necessary for explicating Metastasio's convoluted plot, are not a problem when they are performed with as much vivid dramatic realism as they are here.