Handel's 1728 Siroe was the first opera he set to a libretto by Metastasio (soon to become the leading librettist of the 18th century). It poetically if confusingly concerns the succession to the throne of Persia. King Cosroe (bass-baritone) foolishly opts for his son Medarse (countertenor) because the older son, Siroe (mezzo), will not swear fidelity to him when asked (shades of King Lear). Siroe loves Emira (soprano), who, disguised as a man, wants to avenge her father's death at the hands of Cosroe; Cosroe's mistress Laodice (soprano) is in love with Siroe, and since Cosroe is tired of Laodice, he is trying to get that particular match to click. The good-as-gold Siroe has to work doubly hard to avoid the amorous advances of Laodice while stopping the disguised Emira from killing his father. The dopey king condemns him to die, but all is revealed in time by the king's general, Arasse (bass), and the opera ends happily. Handel composed the soprano roles for two great divas (Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni, who hated each other and once began a fist fight on stage) and each gets six arias, as does Siroe (originally sung by the great castrato Senesino).
This is the second recording of the opera to appear; a
Newport Classic set
under Rudolf Palmer came out in 1991. It contained slightly more recitative but omitted two arias. Re-listening to it and comparing it with this new one, led by Andreas Spering, it stands up nicely in general and occasionally proves better. For instance, although newcomer Sunhae Im's Laodice is convincing and zippily sung, her slight shrillness above the staff can grate, and Andrea Matthews for Palmer does not. Johanna Stojkovic's Emira is very impressive here, but life would be less wonderful without Julianne Baird's perfect performance for Palmer. John Ostendorf's Cosroe on Newport is not appealing at all; Sebastian Noack's is more secure but still lacks the sort of potency the role requires. The Medarses are about tied technically, but Gunther Schmid for Spering sounds almost exactly like a woman, which is slightly weird and defeats the dastardly character's purpose. (The same might be said for Palmer's Steven Rickards; the role needs, say, Derek Lee Ragin.)
Siroe, our hero, is a very important role. While D'Anna Fortunato sings movingly and fluently, Ann Hallenberg on the new set is simply fantastic--noble, strong, and rhythmically stunning, with a glorious sound, evenly produced. Her legato singing is as impeccable as her coloratura. Both conductors allow generous embellishments--indeed, Spering's are occasionally psychotically intricate. Spering's leadership also is more energetic and pointed and his Cappella Coloniensis plays with more accuracy, suppleness, and sharpness of attack. In sum, if I had to own only one, it would be Spering's, and if Julianne Baird were to defect, we'd have everything, at least as far as the women are concerned. The sound is ideal--clear and clean, with the voices just forward enough.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Reviewing original release of this recording