Notes and Editorial Reviews
Nicholas McGegan, cond; Amanda Forsythe (
); Dominique Labelle (
); Amy Preston (
); Robin Blaze (
); Drew Minter (
); Céline Ricci (
); Jeffrey Fields
Sacerdate di Minerva
); Jonathan Smucker (
); Philharmonia Baroque Ch & O
PBP 07 (77:59) Live: First Congregational Church, San Francisco 4/13–14/2013
Taken from a live performance, this generously timed disc presents jewels from a piece that is itself a jewel in the Handelian canon. Teseo is, of course, Theseus. The opera was first produced in London in 1713, at the Queen’s Theatre. It was Handel’s third work for the London stage.
The plot is everything one might expect from a mythological storyline in Baroque opera: Medea returns and falls in love with Theseus (Egeo’s rival). The King, Egeo, pines for his ward, Agilea. As the Philharmonia Baroque’s web site puts it, “What could possibly go wrong?”
The Overture is given a performance that is difficult to imagine bettered. After a rather cruel cut after the end of the Overture (just one line of recitative retained), we hear first Amy Preston as Agilea, one of the score’s four soprano parts, in the aria, “E’ pur bello.” Her purity of voice is most appealing, something which is also abundantly in evidence in the slow aria from act IV, “Amarti sì vorrei.” This, with Clizia’s recitative and aria “Parte Agilea….Ti credo, si, ben mio,” comprises the totality of the excerpts from act I. Céline Rizzi’s agile soprano is the perfect vehicle for Handel’s sprightly demands; the orchestra’s crisp responses are sheer delight.
Imparting pure joy is the duet of Medea and Egeo from the second act (“Si ti lascio”). Labelle and Minter’s voices are perfectly judged to make maximal impact together, differentiated just perfectly. Minter’s warm sound is most appealing, although he is perhaps a little weak in his act IV aria, “Voglio strage, e voglio morte.” In the title role, Labelle’s agile second act aria, “”O stringerò bel sen” is notable not only for its accuracy but also the character’s anger; ditto in the act III aria “Sibbillando, ululando,” which ends with a delicious cackle. Amanda Forsythe is heart-meltingly lyrical and touching in the second act aria, “Quanto ch’a me sian care”; the continuo accompaniment is the height of eloquence. Teseo’s duet with Medea in act IV is beautifully executed by both singers. In terms of invention, it surely ranks with Handel’s finest duets.
Robin Blaze’s reputation precedes him: his lyrical act III aria, “Le luci del mil been” is spellbinding in its concentration. Jeffrey Fields as the Priest of Minerva is briefly but effectively heard here in the accompanied recitative “Il cidl già si compiace” prior to the final celebratory chorus, “Goda ogn’alma in si bel giorno.” The chorus is listed merely as “Chorus,” but one assumes it is the Philharmonia Baroque Chorus.
Nicholas McGegan conducts with a true sense of style and panache, but most of all it is the energy he imparts that impresses: The score emerges as fresh as if it had been composed yesterday. He relishes, too, Handel’s moments of more audacious scoring (the violin interjections in Teseo’s “S’armi il fato,” for example, or the impatient orchestra of Medea’s accompanied recitative, “Ombre sortie dall’eterna note!”
Production values are high. Texts and translations are included. Obviously the entire piece is preferable. A highlights disc can only give a pointer to either the stature of a piece or the stature of the performance. In this case both are of the highest, and if highlights alone really are what is required, this is the place to turn.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
Works on This Recording
Teseo, HWV 9: Excerpt(s) by George Frideric Handel
Robin Blaze (Countertenor),
Amy Freston (Soprano),
Dominique Labelle (Soprano),
Amanda Forsythe (Soprano),
Drew Minter (Countertenor),
Celine Ricci (Soprano)
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
Written: by 1712; London, England
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