CATONE IN UTICA (LONDON, 1732)

PASTICCIO OPERA IN THREE ACTS AFTER LEONARDO LEO’S CATONE IN UTICA TO A LIBRETTO BY METASTASIO [CONCERT PERFORMANCE SUNG IN ITALIAN] BY GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL

ST. GEORGE’S, HANOVER SQUARE, MARCH 17
(PART OF THE LONDON HANDEL FESTIVAL)

GUARDIAN

Compelling and beautifully done

Marcus Cato was one of the last great figures of the Roman republic. Fiercely opposed to the absolutism of Julius Caesar, he took his own life at Utica in north Africa after his military defeat by Caesar’s imperial army made the latter’s rise to power inevitable. His story, still relevant, was popular in the 18th century, when republican values clashed with autocracy. In 1732, Handel, in his role as impresario, devised a pasticcio on the subject – Catone in Utica – fashioning the score from pre-existing arias by such contemporaries as Vivaldi, Hasse, Vinci and Leonardo Leo. Read more...

Revived in concert by Opera Settecento as part of this year’s London Handel Festival, it proves remarkably compelling. Dramatically, it’s a taut five-hander that carefully probes the private consequences of political action. Cato’s unswerving adherence to principle is noble and dangerous: his suicide destroys his daughter, Caesar’s mistress Marzia, and prevents Emilia, widow of Caesar’s enemy Pompey, from ever obtaining justice for her husband’s murder. Handel’s choice of material is psychologically perceptive, though the musical quality varies: Leonardo Leo isn’t as good a composer as the rest of the contributors.

Directed from the harpsichord by Tom Foster, it was beautifully done, though the recitatives needed a bit more pace. Despite some frayed tone, Christopher Robson’s quietly dignified Cato, replacing the indisposed Andrew Watts, was pitted against Christopher Jacklin’s tremendous Caesar. A coloratura firebrand, Jacklin is heading for important things on this showing, as is his Marzia, Erica Eloff, who had to close the evening with the ferocious “Vo Solcando” from Vinci’s Artaserse, delivered with terrific flamboyance. Christina Gansch’s Emilia, and Emilie Renard as Marzia’s hapless fiance Arbace, were also superb.

Tim Ashley