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Handel: Alesandro Severo; Manzaro: Don Crepuscolo / Petrou, Armonia Atenea

Handel / Manzaro
Release Date: 03/08/2011 
Label:  Md&g (Dabringhaus & Grimm)   Catalog #: 6091674  
Composer:  George Frideric HandelNiccolò Manzaro
Performer:  Petros MagoulasMarita SolbergKristina HammarstromIrini Karaianni,   ... 
Conductor:  George Petrou
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Armonia Atenea
Number of Discs: 3 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HANDEL Alessandro Severo. MANZARO Don Crepuscolo George Petrou, cond; Mary-Ellen Nesi ( Alessandro ); Marita Solberg ( Salustia ); Gemma Bertagnolli ( Claudio ); Kristina Hammarström ( Giulia ); Irina Karaianni ( Albina ); Petros Magoulas Read more ( Marziano ); Christophoros Stamboglis ( Don Crepuscolo ); Armonia Atenea (period instruments) MDG 609 1674 (3 CDs: 186:59 Text and Translation)

Alessandro Severo is a pasticcio , an Italian term meaning a jumble or hodgepodge. In the operatic context, it refers to a work made up of music composed for another occasion and reused with little or no change. Handel produced three pasticcio operas based on his own music: Oreste (1734), Alessandro Severo (1738), and Giove in Argo (1739); only the latter contains any substantial new music. With this release, we now have recordings of all three.

For Alessandro Severo Handel wrote a new overture and recitatives. All of the remaining music came from previous operas: Giustino (seven arias, a chorus, a sinfonia), Arminio (four arias, a sinfonia), Berenice (three arias, a duet, a sinfonia), Atalanta (three arias), Orlando (two arias), Siroe (an aria and the final coro ), Arianna in Creta and Ezio (one aria each), and Radamisto (a duet). Most of these operas were works Handel did not revive after their initial presentation, so much of the music would probably have been unfamiliar to many in the audience, although the four works most heavily drawn upon had all been premiered less than two years before Alessandro Severo . The reused music is all of a very high quality. It all sounds natural in its new setting; if one did not know that this is a pasticcio , one would never guess that the music had not been expressly composed for this work. Most of the music is used unchanged, except for necessary verbal alterations in the new context, although some arias are shorted from their originals. Only one aria, “Che posso dir, o cara,” is substantially rewritten, and only in its A section.

This is George Petrou’s fifth Handel opera recording. His first was the 1734 pasticcio Oreste ; he has also given us recordings of Arianna in Creta, Tamerlano, and Giulio Cesare . All have been noteworthy recordings, and this latest venture is no exception. The recording displays the virtues (many) and flaws (few and relatively minor) of his previous efforts.

To begin with the virtues, Petrou sets reasonable tempos, lively but not extreme. He extracts excellent playing from his period-instrument group, one he has not used on previous recordings. The cast is mostly excellent, never less than good. Mary-Ellen Nesi, the Alessando, has been a fixture of all four previous recordings. Her dark, supple mezzo is very well suited to the main castrato role, and she is adept at the often florid music Handel lavished on the character, a trait shared by all members of the cast, who are all technically secure. Marita Solberg has not appeared in previous Petrou Handel recordings. She is a winning addition to his group of singers. Her bright, lovely, clear voice is perfectly suited to Salustia. Kristina Hammarström has a somewhat hard edge to her dark mezzo voice, which fits perfectly the jealous, vengeful character she sings. Petros Magoulas, another veteran of the four previous recordings, is excellent as Marziano. The secondary pair of lovers, Irina Karaianni (Albina) and Gemma Bertagnolli (Claudio), sings well, though their voices are not quite as pleasant to hear as those of the rest of the cast.

The negatives are the same as those that afflict virtually every period-instrument performance that has come my way in recent years: unidiomatic treatment of the continuo group and of da capo ornamentation.

Alessandro Severo is complete on two discs. The third disc is labeled a “BONUS-CD” and contains a short one-person azione comica by the Corfu native Niccolò Manzaro (also known by his Greek name as Nikolaos Halikiopoulos Mantzaros), who lived from 1795 to 1872. The music of this comic scene inhabits the world of early Rossini and makes for pleasant listening. It is well performed by Christophoros Stamboglis and by Petrou and his orchestra. It lasts about 30 minutes. Why it is paired with an opera by Handel is a mystery.

As with earlier Petrou recordings from MDG, the translation is taken from Handel’s day. MDG’s printing is, as before, riddled with typos. Although it is claimed that the Manzaro disc is a “bonus,” a check of several websites shows that this recording is being sold for the same price as other three-disc operas in the series. I fail to see where the bargain is.

This release is a major addition to the Handel discography and deserves a place on the shelf of every devoted Handelian.

FANFARE: Ron Salemi
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Works on This Recording

Alessandro Severo, HWV A13 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Petros Magoulas (Bass), Marita Solberg (Soprano), Kristina Hammarstrom (Mezzo Soprano),
Irini Karaianni (Mezzo Soprano), Gemma Bertagnolli (Soprano), Mary-Ellen Nesi (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  George Petrou
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Armonia Atenea
Don Crepuscolo by Niccolò Manzaro
Performer:  Christophoros Stamboglis (Bass)
Conductor:  George Petrou
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Armonia Atenea

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