Notes and Editorial Reviews
This opera, Handel's penultimate, is relatively direct, both in its scoring--just strings and oboes--and its plot: Rosmene (soprano) must choose between Tirinto (mezzo-soprano), whom she loves and who loves her, and Imeneo (bass-baritone), who rescued her from pirates. Rosmene's confidante Clomiri (soprano) loves Imeneo, but it is unrequited; he loves Rosmene. Argenio (bass) is Rosmene's father; he wants her to marry Imeneo. This simplicity might lead you to believe that the opera is lightweight or emotionally void (it was referred to as an "operetta" at its premiere), but it's remarkable how involved the listener gets in the plot. Until the very last moment we don't know who Rosmene will select, and furthermore, when she feigns madness because she must choose between duty and love, she either feigns it so well that we believe her too, or like Hamlet, she actually is mad--at least for a little while. She opts for duty and picks Imeneo, explaining in a brief final aria that she's like a boat at the mercy of the wind that has gone from one shore to another: "Dear deserted shore," she sings to Tirinto, "if fate took it elsewhere, how did the unfortunate boat commit a sin?"
So we are dealing with an essentially four-character opera (Argenio just worries and prods) in which only one of the lovers--Imeneo--winds up happy in the end. Except for one big scene for Tirinto, all of the arias are short and the recitatives are even shorter. One interesting touch, before Rosmene's decision, is Imeneo singing a half-minute arioso of longing, then a few minutes later Tirinto sings the same tune, and then a few minutes after that the two men sing it as a duet! Handel's final chorus is not joyous; it extols the primacy of a noble ideal and reason and is in a rather sad minor key. This is a subtle, rather than simple opera.
A recording of this work appeared 15-or-so years ago on Vox. It cut and re-arranged arias, and except for Julianne Baird's beautiful, moving Rosmene, it yields in every way to this new CPO set. (A one-CD, abbreviated version in German appeared on Berlin Classics more than 30 years ago, but it is out of the running.) Tirinto is the major role (it was the castrato role at the opera's ill-fated premiere) and Ann Hallenberg is simply wonderful. She sings with real heart, and while I would have preferred a somewhat darker sound, that is only a personal preference. She has a lovely legato and sings with ardor. Johanna Stojkovic's Rosmene is excellent as well--as I said, not as sheerly lovely as Baird on Vox, but elegant, pure of tone, and convincing in her "I'm-half-crazy" scene. Siri Karoline Thornhill sings Clomiri with a bright, girlish tone that contrasts well with Rosmene's; Clomiri only wants to be happy. Light baritone Kay Stiefermann is a fine Imeneo--easy with coloratura, noble, never a bully--and bass Locky Chung rounds out the cast as Argenio. Along with the orchestral forces under Andreas Spering, this is true, wisely performed, dramatically infused Handel. It's also highly recommended, and don't let its modest feel fool you: this is Handel at his most psychologically astute. [3/16/2004]
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com