VENCESLAO (1731)
BY GEORG FRIEDRICH HANDEL


MUSICOMH.COM

29 April 2019

Erenice and Alessandro marry in secret with Ernando as the witness, but Casimiro, believing that the Princess is with Ernando, ends up murdering Alessandro in the dark of their bridal chamber. When he realises he has actually killed his own brother he resigns himself to his fate, but Lucinda pleads for mercy. Venceslao, in an attempt to balance the competing demands placed on him, solemnises the marriage of Lucinda and Casimiro before declaring that the latter will die. Ernando and Erenice meanwhile learn that they really do love each other, although their priority remains enacting revenge for Alessandro’s death.

When, however, they learn that the populace is calling for Casimiro’s release, they plead with Venceslao for clemency. He says he cannot show it as his duty as King is to uphold the law, but it also emerges that Lucinda has roused the army in Casimiro’s cause. This places everyone in a predicament, including Casimiro who fears treason will now be added to his list of crimes, but Venceslao finds a way out. Summoning Casimiro, he places the crown on his head, and with Casimiro’s first proclamation as King being that Ernando and Erenice may marry, he ends their feud and allows everyone to rejoice.

The work feels something of an oddity, but rather a successful one and this might be attributed to a combination of accident and design. The whole point of a pasticcio is that, even though much of the material is pre-existing, it is still crafted to create a new, coherent piece. At the same time, however, the greatest arias, differentially at least, tend to be those that display the biggest emotions and greatest dilemmas. As a result, the act of compiling a list of ‘favourites’ in itself seems to have had the effect of packing every twist, turn and dilemma in the book into one piece. As a result, though the work can feel uneven, it certainly gathers pace as revealed on the night by the audience applauding only at the end of Acts I and II, but then clapping after virtually every aria in Act III. The complexity of the dilemmas faced are surmised in Venceslao’s ‘Balenar con giusta legge’, in which he says justice must take precedence over both rage and pity, so that there are more than two variables in play. Such intricacies also manifold themselves in other places so that Lucinda’s ‘La vaga Luccioletta’ (originally from Hasse’s Attalo) shows two strongly competing moods across its verses. There is subtlety too as one emotional conversation between Venceslao and Casimiro ends with the former quietly, rather than monumentally, proclaiming ‘A Morte’ (To death).  

Michał Czerniawski

Michał Czerniawski

With several arias (by Hasse) involving two horns, and a trumpet being introduced at various triumphant moments, Opera Settecento presented the work extremely strongly. The soloists were well chosen, with Nick Pritchard’s sublime tenor (as Venceslao) working well with Michał Czerniawski’s frequently dreamy countertenor (Casimiro), Olivia Warburton’s beguiling mezzo-soprano (Ernando) and Christopher Jacklin’s mature baritone (Alessandro and Gismondo). Galina Averina gave an especially accomplished performance with her extremely supple, versatile and nuanced soprano working well with the demands of Erenice’s part, while Helen Charlston as Lucinda revealed a mezzo-soprano whose fullness was complemented by a pleasing edge.

Sam Smith