Notes and Editorial Reviews
Handel’s Ottone was one of the most popular operas of the composer’s career, with 34 known performances during his lifetime, beaten only by the 53 performances of Rinaldo. The premiere run in 1723 featured superstar Italian soloists including Senesino and Cuzzoni, and coincided with (and was perhaps the cause of) the height of London’s opera madness, with tickets changing hands for increasingly high prices on the black market. This recording of the 1723 version (Handel adapted the opera in later years for different singers) features James Bowman at the peak of his powers in the title role.
Ottone is, even for Handel, unusually rich in lovely, heartrending arias' (The Times)
'Everywhere, the dexterity and resource
of Robert King's Consort lend enchantment' (The Independent)
With over 30 of Handel’s operas awaiting a first CD recording, it seems indecent luxury to find two splendid new recordings of Ottone, a work in the vanguard of the German Handel opera revival in the 1920s, but long since relegated to obscurity. Both benefit immensely by being based on stage performances, Nicholas McGegan’s from the Göttingen Handel Festival, of which he is artistic director, Robert King’s from a production that successfully toured the UK and Japan. Broadly speaking, McGegan’s reading is distinguished by a compelling sense of drama and a wonderful feeling for Handelian style, sometimes at the expense of tonal beauty; King’s is smoother, occasionally letting the dramatic impetus flag, but offering playing of consistent strength and fine shading. McGegan, however, fields the marginally more convincing team of singers, led by Drew Minter, whose pure bright tone, breathtaking coloratura and ardent delivery give pleasure at every hearing; Bowman, for King, sings with sensitivity but his mannered tone and technical limitations are serious drawbacks. Conversely, Dominique Visse, for King, with his inimitable reedy timbre and impeccable musicianship, is matchless as Ottone’s rival in kingship, Adelberto, fine as Ralf Popken is for McGegan. Of the female roles, Claron McFadden produces a stream of radiant tone as Teofane; but so does Lisa Saffer, who, in addition, offers a wider range of colour. Both sets are recommendable, but Minter’s charismatic performance, Saffer’s deeper perceptions and the inclusion of arias Handel wrote for later revivals tip the balance in favour of McGegan. Whatever your choice, it’s an opera not to be missed.
-- Antony Bye, BBC Music Magazine
Reviewing original release, Hyperion 66751
Works on This Recording
Ottone, HWV 15 by George Frideric Handel
Jennifer Smith (Soprano),
Claron McFadden (Soprano),
Dominique Visse (Countertenor),
Catherine Denley (Mezzo Soprano),
James Bowman (Countertenor),
Michael George (Bass)
Written: by 1723; London, England
Length: 174 Minutes 53 Secs.
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