Notes and Editorial Reviews
Giove in Argo
Alan Curtis, cond; Ann Hallenberg (
); Karina Gauvin (
); Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani (
); Vito Priante (
); Theodora Baka (
); Johannes Weisser (
); Il Complesso Barocco
VIRGIN 72311622 (3 CDs: 156:50
Text and Translation)
is a term used to indicate the baroque practice of compiling a new opera out of more than one older source. What’s frustrating is that it completely ignores motivation and context, while at the same time attempting to cover an overly broad range of results. Should
even be considered an opera by Handel-the-composer, when it was assembled by Handel-the-impressario out of works by Vinci and Orlandini to spotlight his company’s singers? Is
an original work given the care lavished on it, despite recycling a lot of Handel’s Italian-period music for London audiences, or a
Il trionfo del tempo e della verità
Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno
(1707), considering the amount of old material that is kept, or a new work that expands and revises an older one?
is a word that pleads for context. It raises questions, and in itself supplies few answers.
Let’s return for a moment to the case of
. If it is an original work, given the sheer amount of self-borrowing, does that mean the three operas Handel deliberately set out to compile from his own earlier works—
Oreste, Alessandro Severo
Giove in Argo
—are any less original? If the effort put into refashioning
sets it apart from those three, should we regard them as unworthy of being mounted in our continuing Handel revival? You wouldn’t admittedly come to one of these self-compiled operas, used by their composer as seasonal stopgaps while spending more time on new works, for the insightful characterization and unity of
. But that doesn’t mean they furnish poor entertainment.
Of the three works,
Giove in Argo
is the problem child. It was quickly prepared to meet the sudden challenge of a new opera company created in 1739 by the Earl of Middlesex (in large part to please his new mistress, the singer Lucia Panichi). Attendance was extremely poor, and it only ran for two performances. That wasn’t necessarily a judgment on
’s quality, however, since Handel’s last two Italian operas,
, were to fare about as badly. The conducting score of the Second and Third acts went missing over time, though enough manuscript fragments were subsequently rediscovered to indicate the content of all but two of its arias. Musicologist John Roberts discovered them at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, though they were composed by Francesco Araja rather than Handel himself. (They were probably “suitcase arias,” pieces that arrived in London with one of the performers the composer engaged for
, who expected their insertion in the opera; it was a standard practice—or more properly, a standard abuse—that continued on a reduced scale right up through much of the 19th century.) Roberts subsequently undertook to furnish all the missing recitatives and along with corrections to content, create a new performing edition. That’s what we have on this release.
The libretto to
is a silly thing, even by the standards of pastoral opera. Its various mortal lovers have their emotions challenged or sea-changed by a pair of gods, who either demand celibacy or seek a good romp in the nearest convenient haystack. The music is about as good as you might expect, given the culling of pieces out of a dozen works, most of them recently successful and liked by contemporary English audiences. They fit competently in context. Even Araja’s pair of arias from his
(“Ombra che pallida” and “Questa d’un fido amore” in acts II and III, respectively) are reasonably effective if overly repetitive by our standards, and their style much closer to Vivaldi than Handel.
The cast is among the best Curtis has assembled for one of his operatic projects, and that’s saying quite a bit. Karina Gauvin’s diamond-etched tone and attention to expressive detail are especially welcome in her act III accompanied recitative and aria. Vito Priante handles the moderate agility required by his part with ease, and creates something appropriately menacing and precipitate out of the vengeful Erasto. Ann Hallenberg is entrusted with the fireworks role of Iside. Her skill at coloratura is given a heavy workout in the latter of the two Araja arias mentioned above, where she bravely ornaments the fast-paced da capo repeats.
Theodora Baka’s mezzo—darker for most of its range, opening up at the top to a bright, silvery tone, effortlessly floated on a quicksilver vibrato—makes for a regal but charming Diana. I’m not fond of Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani’s covered tone, though he is clearly an intelligent and tasteful singer. He phrases well, but there’s no real sense of character in his portrayal of the disguised Jove. Johannes Weisser has a dark, gruff bass and good agility. Unlike Giustiniani, he knows how to project a vivid character, though there are moments when he’s overemphatic, and pitch gets lost. Alan Curtis leads Il Complesso Barocco in a disciplined performance, involved and rhythmically alert. There’s none of the manic, metrically stiff playing that one still finds occasionally in some recordings of baroque opera, but a willingness to work closely with his singers.
Giove in Argo
isn’t top drawer Handel. But as heard here it’s good fun, and makes for a spirited game of “where did this aria come from?” Recommended.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Giove in Argo by George Frideric Handel
Johannes Weisser (Baritone),
Theodora Baka (Voice),
Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani (Tenor),
Ann Hallenberg (Mezzo Soprano),
Karina Gauvin (Soprano),
Vito Priante (Baritone)
Il Complesso Barocco
Written: by 1739; London, England
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