Notes and Editorial Reviews
Alan Curtis, cond; Marijana Mijanovi? (
); Vito Priante (
); Joyce DiDonato (
); Sharon Rostorf-Zamir (
); Roberta Invernizzi (
); Riccardo Novaro (
); Il Complesso Barocco
ARCHIV 000817602 (3 CDs: 163:42
Text and Translation)
was not a happy experience for Handel. He had recently acquired a popular rival, Giovanni Bononcini, and was forced to work with a new librettist that was more interested in the poetry of his material than its stageworthiness. However, the most serious problem occurred halfway through writing the opera, in October 1721, when the soprano whom Handel had cast as Elmira fell ill. The directors of the opera house (the Royal Academy of Music, patronized by King George I) decided to replace her with a contralto, Anastasia Robinson, whose voice was more limited in range and agility, but who possessed strong political credentials: she was both Roman Catholic, and the mistress of the Earl of Peterborough. These were important assets to the aristocratic Roman Catholic faction that held sway in the Academy at that time. In turn, her former scheduled part, that of Rossane, was to be given to a soprano, Maddalena Salvai.
Handel was known to be both temperamental and pragmatic. His solution to dealing with Robinson reveals both sides of his character, for he transposed her arias and limited their compass, while otherwise making no concessions to her humbler abilities—this, despite the bravura nature of Elmira’s material, and in complete contrast to his usual method of smoothing matters over by providing new or rewritten music to fresh text. For Salvai, Handel was considerably more forthcoming: he largely rewrote a pair of Rossane’s arias, and completely replaced a third. Where Robinson-as-Rossane would have sung the relatively undemanding but expressive “È un sospir che vien dal core,” Salvai-as-Rossane received “Sospiro, è vero” instead, a saucy piece that recalls the unregenerate Cleopatra in the first two acts of
What Alan Curtis has provided in this new recording of
is a reversion to Handel’s original key signatures and vocal compass for Elmira, while retaining the changes in the revised version for Rossane. With due respect to musicologist Hans Dieter Clausen, who did the new critical edition of this opera, this is not, as his liner notes state, “an Ideal
,” if by ideal, he meant a return to the original score. That which has been restored would not be musically distinct to from what was previously there to the average listener; and that which was left untouched by Curtis, Rossane’s part, has substantially different music from Handel’s first conception of the part.
All that to one side, this is a highly successful traversal of the opera’s score. Curtis is, as ever, a remarkably fine stylist who never loses track of the innate theatricality of the score. He is capable of great rhythmic verve and articulation—the fast section of the overture almost suffers from musical whiplash—but also understands the need for adequate contrast elsewhere in a sense of repose. Curtis knows that the exhilaration a listener feels from hearing great singing derives not merely from agility at reckless tempos—such as Vivaldi specialist Jean-Christophe Spinosi provides—but from expressiveness, tonal quality, and sustained length of line, as well. We probably owe Curtis for the embellishments in
repeat sections, too, all of which are expertly chosen.
The cast is in all respects save one, completely satisfactory. Joyce DiDonato’s sweet tone is in no manner impeded by Elmira’s forceful emotions. To the contrary, she deals with the difficult coloratura effortlessly while still providing as fierce a Handelian depiction of anger as any in his musical catalog (“Barbaro! t’odio a morte”). Vito Priante occasionally strays from the vocal line in an effort to add character, but attends well to figurations and dynamics (“Ma non s’aspetti, no”—a none-too-distant relative of
Acis and Galatea
’s “O ruddier than the cherry”). Roberta Invernizzi’s agility and gloriously forthright tone make for an excellent Timante; Sharon Rostorf-Zamir’s fluent coloratura and delicate sound (more noticeable in the upper reaches of her voice) in turn create a fine contrast during their scenes together. Riccardo Novaro does very well in the one-aria part of Coralbo, displaying a rich, flexible bass, and smooth production.
The only real weakness lies in the casting of the title role. Marijana Mijanovi? yields to few when it comes to Handelian interpretation, but her voice is simply not up to handling matters musically, especially when contrasted with such an able team of performers. Some notes are now afflicted by a broad vibrato. Figurations are sometimes vague, and breaths are occasionally taken at inconvenient points, even in slower material. Intonation is suspect in the midrange. At her best, in a dramatic aria such as “Questi ceppi e quest’ orrore,” she holds the aural stage without fear of competition, but too often the flaws in her production interfere with what she is attempting to achieve.
Current available competition comes from a 1991 performance under Nicolas McGegan’s direction (Hungaroton 31304-06). All the singers on that recording display fine coloratura, but only the Timante of Mária Zádori adds a brilliant vocal edge and a degree of interpretative skill. The Floridante, countertenor Drew Minter, is strong where Mijanovi? is weakest. Florid work is tossed off with astonishing ease and extraordinary breath support. However, there isn’t a hint in his Floridante of emotion. It is a theatrical cipher. McGegan’s tendency to shift abruptly into fourth gear whenever the chance arises doesn’t help when it comes to expressiveness, either.
Hungaroton comes off a distant second best in sound. Whereas Archiv provides good balance between orchestra and singers, with subtle spotlighting and plenty of forward tone, McGegan has to contend with a cathedral-like ambience that clouds the very textures Curtis clarifies in his performance. In the end, there’s no room for equivocation. Despite the vocal failings of Mijanovi?, Curtis provides the
you should purchase.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Il Floridante, HWV 14 by George Frideric Handel
Roberta Invernizzi (Soprano),
Marijana Mijanovic (Alto),
Joyce DiDonato (Mezzo Soprano)
Il Complesso Barocco
Written: by 1721; London, England
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