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.
Partenope is mature Handel, and belongs in the top flight of his stage works. A comedy from 1730, which was first rejected as too frivolous by the Royal Academy of Music in London, the text had been set 20 years earlier by Caldara for an opera that had been a major influence on the young Handel. The tone is light and the action - all disguises and cross-dressing, with everyone ending up with the right partner - is swift moving; there are relatively few extended arias but a number of ensembles, as well as the obligatory sinfonia and march for the battle scene at the beginning of the second act. This performance under Christian Curnyn hits the right spot from the very start. There are no outstanding performances, but a whole collection of first-rate ones - Rosemary Joshua in the title role of the queen with so many admirers, Hilary Summers as the princess Rosmira, Kurt Streit as Emilio, the one prince who doesn't get the girl. (Andrew Clements)
This is the best recording so far of Partenope. Krisztina Laki is splendid in the lead role as is Helga Muller-Molinari as Rosmira and John York Skinner as Armindo. Rene Jacobs in the counter-tenor role of Arsace does a fine job considering the date of this recording. The orchestra plays with great vitality. This is the recommended recording of this opera.
Carl Heinrich Graun was court composer to Frederick the Great of Prussia, and this opera was chosen to open the new opera house in Berlin in 1742. It was a great success, but Handel's opera on the same subject had appeared less than two decades before, and had anyone been familiar with that one, Graun's might have come as a disappointment. Handel gets under his characters' skins–Cleopatra's eight arias tell us everything we have to know about her, for instance–while Graun (merely) offers some beautiful, well-orchestrated, at-times exciting music. Any composer would have been proud to compose Cesare's heart-stoppingly vengeful last-act aria "Voglio strage", and any Read more mezzo (or castrato or countertenor) would be happy to sing it. Here, Iris Vermillion is spectacular, and elsewhere in the opera she's as heroic, romantic, and colorful as our hero ought to be… Robert Levine