BY GEORG FRIEDRICH HANDEL
28 April 2019
This was the third of Handel’s pasticcios Leo Duarte has presented with Opera Settecento at the London Handel Festival (following Elpidia and Ormisda; though OS has also given Catone in Utica with a different conductor). Duarte has prepared new editions from original sources to bring to light this intriguing aspect of Handel’s operatic output, in which a musical patchwork was created by threading a variety of arias from other composers’ operas.
For Venceslao (1731) Handel adapted a pre-existing text by one of the most prominent librettists of the period, Apostolo Zeno, and drew upon operas by Vinci, Porpora, Giacomelli, Orlandini, Porta, Pollarolo, Hassi, Lotti, and Capelli, alongside two arias of unknown provenance. The Overture is probably also not attributable to Handel as it follows the Italian three-movement fast-slow-fast structure, rather than the typical French model he adopted for his own operas. More so than the two other pasticcios which Duarte has performed, Venceslao demonstrates a more consistent stylistic synthesis in the selected arias in that they represent the more up-to-date Italianate fashion with a clearer, lucid texture of crisp, long-breathed melodies over more-homophonic accompaniments, and often pounding bass parts – the sort of style that would eventually lead away from Baroque exuberance to Classical simplicity. Read more
29 April 2019
Opera Settecento, directed by Leo Duarte, has quite a tradition of performing pasticcios at the London Handel festival, having presented Elpidia (1725) in 2016 and Ormisda (1730) a year later. This form was common in the eighteenth century, partly because the demands on an establishment’s resident composer to produce work were so great that it became a standard practice to bolster output in this way, and partly because there was a strong tradition of using such creations to showcase the compositions of a range of musicians of that generation.
Venceslao (1731), however, represented the last time that Handel was to create a work where he allowed the participating singers to throw their favourite arias at him to be woven into a dramatic tapestry. Their interest in doing so was to present music with which they were already familiar (in this instance, arias from operas by Vinci, Porpora, Giacomelli, Orlandini, Porta, Hasse and Lotti), but the approach also suited the composer when he was working with a new cast of untested singers as he knew they could tackle whatever they gave him.
The Venceslao of the title is Wenceslaus II, King of Poland (1271-1305) and descendent of the Good King Wenceslaus of the Christmas carol. In the opera he has two sons, the virtuous Alessandro and malevolent Casimiro. They both desire Erenice, a Princess descended from the ancient Kings of Poland, who herself loves the former. This pair, however, decide to keep their love a secret as they fear what Casimiro might do if he discovers it. The victorious general Ernando is offered any reward he wishes and asks for Erenice’s hand in marriage, with Alessandro being aware that Ernando is really asking for it on his behalf. Casimiro is furious but has his own problems when Queen Lucinda of Lithuania arrives claiming that she is betrothed to Casimiro, in an aspect of the plot that represents pure fiction. Read more
30 April 2019
If people had come to the forgotten Venceslao for its novelty value, I imagine they went away remembering the singing. For all the joy of hearing Handel’s 1731 pasticcio — one of those early copyright-era operas for which composers happily got away with pilfering an aria or 23 from their colleagues — it’s a push to claim that it’s a memorable piece.
Venceslao was, after all, created for a London audience hungry for starry vocalists and the latest music from Italy. With the success of his patchwork Ormisda the previous season spurring him on, Handel stitched together his singers’ favourite numbers by composers including Vinci, Porpora, Giacomelli, Orlandini and Lotti. Some of the arias dazzle and move; others fall flat.
Commercial and artistic interests aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but compelling, pacey drama Venceslao is not. Yes, the librettist Apostolo Zeno’s tale of a Polish king — based on Wenceslas II, not the good king — features murder, love and rivalries. Yet momentous events are trottedout without real emotional weight, and the lack of staging and surtitles, although there was a printed libretto, did little to help.
There were fewer niggles on the musical front. The suave playing of Opera Settecento’s orchestra was irresistible, directed by Leo Duarte, who also did the scholarly heavy-lifting in bringing Venceslao to light. Hosted by the London Handel Festival, the company had fine young voices, who revelled in stylish ornamentation. As a poised Lucinda, Helen Charlston’s distinctive mezzo stood out, while as Casimiro, Michal Czerniawski’s high notes soared. Olivia Warburton was ill, but still sang Ernando with style; Christopher Jacklin popped up as Gismondo and Alessandro.
And in the title role the tenor Nicholas Pritchard was reliably expressive; his serene Ecco l’Albo was one of the highlights. For fireworks, there was no beating Galina Averina’s Erenice and her stormy, bravura close to Act II.
2 May 2019
It’s rare for a Baroque opera to look beyond the ancient world for its subject and rarer still for a librettist to look at Central and Eastern Europe; but Opera Settecento are brilliant at unearthing unusual pieces for us. This opera is (apparently) inspired by the life of Wenceslas II of Bohemia and Poland, though when I say ‘inspired’, I mean of course that opera and history bear no relation to one another. We can’t even blame Metastasio for this, because the libretto was written by Apostolo Zeno (I like to think that Metastasio would at least have tried to get some historical accuracy). Zeno’s tale is an identikit Baroque story of love, lust and power and, if I’m going to be perfectly honest, it never quite hangs together. Part of that is due to the plot, on which more shortly; but it’s exacerbated by the fact this is a pasticcio. Handel probably didn’t write anything except the recitatives: the rest was cobbled together from other composers – arias from other versions of Venceslao or from completely different operas – as a quick fix to keep audiences happy while he worked on his next original piece. On the bright side, there’s an awful lot of Leonardo Vinci here, which makes me very happy. Read more
AMADIGI DI GAULA (1715)
BY GEORG FRIEDRICH HANDEL
St George’s, Hanover Square, 24 March 2018
27 March 2018
London was recently treated to a concert performance of Handel’s first ‘magic’ opera, Rinaldo, by the English Concert. The London Handel Festival – presumably coincidentally – happens to present this year the two examples which followed soon after that, starting with Amadigi (1715); Teseo will be presented later. Amadigi is rather less well-known than its predecessor, and though it may be less epic, it encompasses just as much spectacle with its spirits, demons, a ghostly apparition, a fiery portal through which Amadigi (Siegfried-like) heroically passes, a hellish cave, and thunder.
Leo Duarte energetically and vividly depicted all that in this lively account of the work with Opera Settecento, creating a dramatic, raw interpretation for some of those startling episodes, and driving Handel’s sequence of numbers with compelling urgency to sustain theatrical vigour. Together they brought out a similar sort of motoric pace perhaps more normally associated with Vivaldi’s operas, but at the time of Amadigi’s composition, the Italian composer had only written three or four works for the stage, and it is unlikely that Handel would have known them. But far from a merely brisk and impulsive dash through the score, Duarte’s reading was attuned to the particular character or Affekt of each aria, revealing the imaginative variety of Handel’s genius. The various contributions of James Eastaway and Bethan White on mournful oboes and rustic recorders, and Paul Bosworth in virtuosic ceremonial displays on trumpet provided effective points of colour.
27 March 2018
While Opera Settecento has tended to focus on pasticcios at the London Handel Festival, with Elpidia being presented in 2016 and Ormisda last March, its contribution this year was a bona fide Handel opera. Amadigi di Gaula HMV 11 is not a work that, as with some of the composer’s most obscure creations, one may only ever get a single chance to hear live, but it is still not performed with anywhere near the regularity that its brilliance merits.
It premiered in 1715, four years after Rinaldo, but five years before Radamisto heralded the start of Handel’s total domination of London opera. It proved popular, receiving six performances in that season and six and five respectively in the two that followed. In 1789 musical historian Charles Burney declared ‘there is more enchantment and machinery in this opera than I have ever found to be announced in any other musical drama produced in England’. Upon hearing the score, in which rich, sumptuous music is complemented by darker and more reflective moments, it is easy to share his enthusiasm. Read more...
EARLY MUSIC REVIEWS
28 March 2018
Amadigi di Gaula (HWV 11) is a rarely performed early opera by Handel, composed in 1715 while he was staying at Burlington House (pictured), the London home of the young Earl of Burlington, Richard Boyle. It is now, in altered form, the home of the Royal Academy. Boyle had inherited the house and adjoining estate aged 10. He was around 9 years younger than Handel and was to become an influential amateur architect in Georgian London, notably for Chiswick House. By 1715, he had already completed the first of his ‘Grand Tours’ and was fast becoming a major patron of the arts and music.
Amadigi di Gaula is a curious and complex tale, based on a late 14th-century Castillian chivalric fantasy romance that also inspired Don Quixote. The tale involves Princess Oriana (not to be confused with the hero of Felix the Cat), a fictional heiress to the throne of England (the ‘Fortunate Isles’) and her protector knight, the Scottish born Amadigi of Gaul, who is love with her, as is his companion Dardano, Prince of Thrace. The evil sorceress Melissa is infatuated with Amadigi. To this end, she imprisons Oriana in a tower and Amadigi and Dardano in a nearby garden. She tries various spells to attract Amadigi, who, initially together with Dardano, is trying to rescue Oriana. After a complex series of deceptions, betrayals, jealousy and sorcery, Amadigi and Oriana are finally united, but not before Amadigi has killed Dardano and Melisa has stabbed herself as her supernatural powers fail against the power of love. Read more...
29 March 2018
Opera Settecento’s contribution to this year’s London Handel Festival was a concert performance of this early work based on the bestselling 16th-century chivalric romance Amadis of Gaul. Despite his name, this parfait knight was in fact half-English (the illegitimate fruit of a union between the King of Gaul and an English princess) and was brought up in Scotland. He kept up tradition by conceiving a great amour for Oriana, heiress to the English throne (charmingly described in the libretto as ‘daughter of the King of the Fortunate Islands’). And it’s this element of the story, rather than the knightly escapades, monsters and other adventures, that Handel is concerned with here. In fact, the whole thing takes place within the bounds of an enchanted palace and its gardens. That was the excuse for some truly staggering stage effects in the original production and, although we didn’t have those at St George’s the other night, we did still get to enjoy the beautiful music; not to mention some excellent performances.
So, that garden. It belongs to the sorceress Melissa, who has imprisoned the princess Oriana in the tower of her palace and used her spells to trap Amadis and his companion Dardanus in the gardens of said stronghold. (Note for pedants: Dosso Dossi’s painting, which illustrates this post, actually shows the good enchantress Melissa from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, not the wicked enchantress Melissa from the Amadis legend. If this troubles you, I apologise, but you’ll just have to accept it.) Read more...
30 March 2018
A small-scale concert performance of Handel’s Amadigi di Gaula by the Opera Settecento orchestra last Saturday night at St. George – Handel’s own parish church—fit perfectly into the venue, thanks to Leo Duarte’s expansive conducting and a strong cast.
In baroque opera, with sparse dynamics and articulation marks written on the score, the approach taken by the conductor and orchestra own personality can make a huge difference. This time dynamics were somewhere in between the rigid and dry English HIP tradition (The English Concert, Academy of Ancient Music) and the more radical contrasts heard from the new ‘Mediterranean’ school (Ensemble Matheus, Accademia Bizantina). Varying balances between sections depending on the aria helped to enrich the orchestral sound with a variety of colors.
It’s fun to guess from a conductor’s movements which kind of instrument they used to play: harpsichordists tend to focus on marking the beat, violinists play more with distinguishing articulations and woodwind players work more on the dynamics. Duarte is an oboist and his expressive movements intended to bring out from the orchestra nuanced attacks and flexible endings, resulting in very rich phrasing. Read more...
ORMISDA (LONDON, 1730)
BY GEORG FRIEDRICH HANDEL
St George's, Hanover Square, 28 March, 2017
29 March 2017
The annual London Handel Festival is dutifully working its way through every one of Handel’s operas in a cycle that will eventually take us from Alcina to Xerxes before, presumably, starting all over again. But each year, alongside these headliners, we also get a pasticcio – an opera stitched together by Handel from the shiniest and most decorative musical scraps by his European colleagues. It’s these unknown works that often throw up the biggest surprises, giving us a wide-shot of a broader musical landscape now all but obliterated by Handel’s popularity.
The term ‘pasticcio’ originally meant pie or pastry, and like its namesake a good operatic pasticcio requires plenty of musical meat. Ormisda positively overflows with it; melodically it’s one of the most generous of all the works Handel assembled, and the combination of arias by Hasse, Vinci, Leo, Orlandini and Giacomelli was such a hit with audiences of the 1730 that it received a massive 14 performances. (To put that in context, Giulio Cesare ran for just 13 nights.) Read more...
30 March 2017
For the third consecutive year Opera Settecento treated the London Handel Festival to a very rare outing for one of the composer’s pasticcio operas, Ormisda – believed to be the first time it has been heard since the 18th century. Handel only had a supervising hand in the work’s creation since it is an assemblage of arias by such composers as Vinci, Leo, Orlandini, Giacomelli, and Hasse, as well as unidentified others, and scholarly opinion is doubtful that Handel even composed any of the recitatives.
Nevertheless Ormisda is still of interest as it sets Handel’s music in the context of that by his most prominent contemporaries who also composed for the stage. By coincidence this pasticcio was premiered in the same season (1729-30) as Partenope which London audiences have also had the chance to see at ENO in the past month. The preponderance of arias in Ormisda are couched in the up-to-date, robust Italianate style with textures harmonically and contrapuntally simpler than Handel’s, but driven with pounding energy, not unlike Vivaldi, making for a colourful, tuneful whole. Read more...
31 March 2017
Ormisda or DJ Handel at his finest
Opera Settecento returned in top form with Handel’s 1730 pasticcio of arias from Vinci, Leo, Hasse, Orlandini and other Northern Italians with ethnically ambiguous names. Team London appreciated this year’s choice very much indeed.
Tuesday was a lovely, warm day here in London so it was a pleasure to wander a bit in the Oxford Circus area, which is somewhere I go to often but only because it’s (also) the general neighbourhood of Wigmore Hall. Otherwise it’s a tourist Mecca – always crowded and 90% of the sights are clothes shops. The buildings are nice though, probably from Handel’s time.
Suffice to say I got there early and Leander and I pored over the libretto for clarification and a bit of chuckle at the 18th century translation (ruby lips, fine brows etc.). We noticed with some trepidation it was by the ubiquitous Apostolo Zeno, the very same poet who penned that jumble sale of plotlines called Faramondo (as well as many other equally questionable early 18th century libretti). We also tried to work out the storm arias judging by title. Read more...
9 April 2017
I’m running slightly behind on London Handel Festival reports, but didn’t want to forget this remarkable Orsmida, dominated by an absolutely brilliant performance from the talented mezzo Maria Ostroukhova. Like Catone and Elpidia in previous Festivals, Ormisda is a pasticcio, pulled together by Handel using arias from other composers’ operas. Not only did this enable him to fill one of the slots in the 1730 opera season, easing his workload a little, but it also introduced London audiences to some top arias from the Continent. Ormisda pulls together some very enjoyable music by Hasse, Orlandini, Vinci, Leo and Giacomelli, to tell a classic opera seria tale of dynastic politics in ancient Persia.
The story opens with the coronation of Artenice, queen of Armenia. Since her father’s death, she has been the ward of the Persian king Ormisda, who decrees that she will marry whichever of his sons becomes his heir. Both these sons are equally noble, but Artenice already has eyes for the younger, Arbace, the son of Ormisda’s second wife Palmira. And Palmira, in the best tradition of Persian queens, is absolutely determined that her child will get the throne. The only problem is that Cosroe, Arbace’s half-brother, is older and a warrior of confirmed valour. He, too, loves Artenice. If Palmira can get her own way, and hasten Cosroe’s shuffle off this mortal coil, then Arbace will happily get both throne and girl. But what will the virtuous young man do, when he realises that in order to fulfil his mother’s dearest wish, and win the light of his heart, he will have to be accessory to the murder of his beloved older brother? Read more...
DEMETRIO (DRESDEN, 1740)
BY JOHANN ADOLPH HASSE
CADOGAN HALL, SLOANE TERRACE, LONDON, SEPTEMBER 21, 2016
September 21, 2016
Writing in the mid-eighteenth century, Charles Burney named Johann Adolph Hasse as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, opera composer of the age. Hasse had a long career, JS Bach heard one of his operas in Dresden, and the teenage Mozart heard and admired Hasse's music. Hasse wrote an enormous number of operas, popular in their day yet which have not made it to the modern stage. At the Cadogan Hall on 21 September 2016, Opera Settecento gave us the chance to hear for ourselves when the company gave the modern premiere of Hasse's 1740 version of Demetrio based on a libretto by Metastasio. Leo Duarte conducted (and was responsible for the edition used), with Erica Eloff, Michael Taylor, Ray Chenez, Ciara Haendrick, Rupert Charlesworth and Augusta Hebbert. Read more >>
September 22, 2016
The libretto to Hasse’s Demetrio, by the famous Metastasio who was born and died a year before the composer, is based on real events in the mid-second century BC. In 150 BC Demetrius Soter of the Greek Seleucid dynasty, which controlled most of the Middle East north of Arabia, was defeated in battle by Alexander Balas, who had married into the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt after cleverly presenting himself as of royal blood.
In Metastasio’s story Demetrius Soter had left his son Alcestes with the faithful Phenicius to be raised in Crete by shepherds, unaware of his royal ancestry. Later adopted by Phenicius, the young man attains the highest honours in Alexander’s army and wins the heart of the king’s daughter Cleonice. At the start of the opera Alexander has been overthrown and executed, Alcestes is missing in action, and Cleonice is proclaimed queen. She must choose a noble husband, and Phenicius must pick his moment to introduce the real background to Alcestes, who later becomes Demetrius II. Read more >>
September 23, 2016
If you were to ask the average opera-goer what their favourite opera by Johann Hasse is, the response would probably be a blank look. In many respects, Hasse is the Meyerbeer of the 18th century: hugely popular and respected in his lifetime, almost completely forgotten just a few decades afterwards, his fruitful artistic partnership with Metastasio today overlooked in favour of Gluck and Calzabigi, Mozart and Da Ponte. To hear the first British performance of his unrecorded Demetrio in modern times from Opera Settecento offered an intriguing chance to evaluate his work and consider the justice of his obscurity.
First impressions were good. The action takes place in Hellenistic Seleucia and is loosely inspired by the political turmoil surrounding the deposition of Demetrius I by Alexander Balus, a bit of a pip-squeak with a silver tongue and friends in Rome. Our eponymous hero is the son of the fallen king and, in Metastasio’s treatment, was rescued by Phenicius, brought up in a shepherd’s hut as Alceste and is eventually adopted by Phenicius, winning praise in battle under the Balus regime and the heart of Balus’ daughter, Cleonice, who after a revolt that ends in her father’s execution, is made Queen. As the work begins, Cleonice has to decide between her love for the ‘low-born’ Alceste, or Phenicius’ natural son, Olinto. And that’s largely it. Wavering, ranting, plotting and dreaming for nearly three hours, the opera has an almost claustrophobic intimacy to it which is brought to a sudden climax when the Cretans arrive on the doorstep bearing a posthumous communication from Demetrius I, confirming that his son’s name is Alceste. The implication is that everyone lives happily ever after – at least until Alceste himself was deposed and killed in the 120s BC. What’s striking is how easily Hasse is able to keep a fairly unadventurous plot musically stimulating over three hours, ably assisted by a libretto that has some sharply witty dialogue. There’s a degree of originality in the music that charms the ears; an aria for Cleonice in Act II with a heavy woodwind dynamic, while Olinto gets his own oboe obbligato in Act III. Read more >>
September 22, 2016
Opera Settecento’s latest offering is Hasse’s Demetrio, on a libretto by the indefatigable Metastasio. They were the dreamteam of the (early) 18th century opera and solidified the basis of that young-ish art form in general.
This wasn’t one of their best efforts. Sure, the lofty ideals of the Enlightenment shine through, as the opera starts with a strong feminist-friendly recit. Queen Cleonice of Syria asserts that women are as capable of ruling as men, citing other examples from around the Ancient World. Of course this is tempered a bit by her accepting the necessity of finding a husband. At least she is allowed to choose one. More or less. But it was written in 1732 so the thought counts. Then there’s her musing about the possibility of the world accepting a brave and patriotic shepherd (Alceste) as king instead of a self-entitled aristocrat (Olinto). The fact that she does not know Alceste’s identity until the end speaks well in her favour. Though it isn’t completely clear if the only reason she’s not prejudiced is because she is smitten with love, you see. But again, the thought counts. You’re a good man, Mr. Metastasio. Read more >>
ANDREW BENSON-WILSON EARLY MUSIC REVIEWS
September 23, 2016
Johann Adolph Hasse (1699-1783) is one of those historically unfortunate composers who achieved great fame during their lifetimes but have since been more-or-less forgotten. A prolific composer of opera, he was hailed by Charles Burney as being superior to all other lyric composers. Married to the famed soprano Faustina Bordoni, the couple became the Posh and Becks of their day. Usually based in Dresden in the Court of the Saxon Elector Frederick III, Hasse had special dispensation that avoided the need to travel annually to the Polish Court, where Frederick was also the elected King. He also maintained a post in Venice at the Ospedale degli Incurabili. He lived long enough to have performed in front of Bach and the young Mozart.
This was the modern première of the opera Demetrio, presented by the musically adventurous Opera Settecento. Although the publicity suggested that we would hear the original 1732 Venice version, it was the later 1740 Dresden version that was performed. This included several new arias, but retained most of the extensive recitative of the earlier version, which was apparently written in something of a rush alongside four other new operas. The original had the unusual vocal casting of five mezzo-sopranos and a tenor, the Dresden version replacing three of the mezzos with a soprano and two high castrati.
Read more >>
ELPIDIA (LONDON, 1725)
PASTICCIO BY GEORG FRIEDRICH HANDEL
[CONCERT PERFORMANCE SUNG IN ITALIAN]
ST GEORGE’S, HANOVER SQUARE, MARCH 31, 2016
April 4, 2016
Here is a Handel offering so obscure that the Wikipedia entry about Elpidia refers only to “a genus of deep-sea swimming cucumbers”. But that’s something else entirely. This Elpidia of 1725, splendidly resurrected for the London Handel Festival by Leo Duarte and the young British group Opera Settecento, is one of the great man’s pasticcios — those 18th-century dishes swiftly concocted by hard-pressed maestros from the arias of other composers. Aside from arranging and conducting, Handel himself in this one might only have contributed sticky tape and some bars of recitative, though it would be a churlish fool who didn’t applaud this performance simply because George Frideric didn’t write the tunes.
The best arias in Elpidia came from the operas of Leonardo Vinci. Their decorative thrills and frills were made to order for the gleaming soprano of Erica Eloff, cast as the lovely Italian princess whose charms reduce every male character to jelly. When Eloff hit a top note, the sound emerged so exact and bright that it was as if she was ringing a doorbell; though with her emotional penetration and mercurial colour range she never ever appeared to be a machine.
Of the rest, Rupert Charlesworth, pitch-perfect, particularly shone as Vitiges, the Goth king. With the two chief rivals for Elpidia, Joe Bolger’s soft-grained countertenor sat in the shadows next to Rupert Enticknap’s trumpetings, though he broke through the veil for his final aria, contemplating death. The other singers, Chris Jacklin and Maria Ostroukhova, chipped in usefully. The handsomest support came from Duarte’s orchestra — lean and tight, particularly gorgeous in the airy, simple accompaniments dominated by unison strings. All told this was a delightful evening, even without a gripping plot. Or sea cucumbers.
April 3, 2016
Like Berenice, performed at St George’s, Hanover Square exactly two weeks earlier, Elpidia of 1725 is a little known Handel opera. That is if it can be described as being by him at all, for it is actually a pasticcio, a work built around music from a range of composers. These were very common in the eighteenth century, partly because the demands on an establishment’s resident composer to produce work were so great that it became a standard practice to bolster output in this way, and partly because there was a strong tradition of using such creations to showcase the compositions of a range of musicians of that generation.
Handel’s precise hand in Elpidia is not entirely clear and has been the subject of much academic research. It seems, however, that the music came primarily from Leonardo Vinci and Giuseppe Orlandini, with additional songs by Antonio Lotti, Domenico Sarro and Giovanni Maria Capelli. Handel probably wrote much of the recitative and possibly one duet, and certainly produced and directed the performances. However, the work, which utilises a text from Apostolo Zeno, was originally put together by Owen Swiny, an agent of the Royal Academy of Music in Venice, after hearing three operas by Vinci and Orlandini during the Venice Carnival season of 1724/25.
April 2, 2016
Roll up! A new opera by Handel is to be performed, L’Elpidia overo li rivali generosi. It is based upon a libretto by Apostolo Zeno with music by Leonardo Vinci – excepting a couple of arias by Giuseppe Orlandini and, additionally, two from Antonio Lotti’s Teofane (which the star bass, Giuseppe Maria Boschi brought with him from the Dresden production of 1719).
The secco recitative, it is presumed, is by Handel (who may also have contributed two accompanied recitatives, a duet and part of the Sinfonia). Imagine such an announcement, for an opera ‘by’ Handel which includes almost no music by him, but which predominantly presents music by a composer who never wrote an opera called Elpidia. Read more...
April 1, 2016
Generous rivals? Handel's Elpidia unearthed by Opera Settecento
The London Handel Festival has been trundling along for 39 years now, presenting an annual feast for lovers of the great 18th-century composer and his contemporaries. In collaboration with Opera Settecento, they put on Handel's first pasticcio, Elpidia, created for the King's Theatre, Haymarket in 1725 and never again seen until this year's festival. The pasticcio form is essentially a musical smörgåsbord: a selection of arias ripped from existing operas by other composers assembled on a recitative tablecloth provided by the 'composer'. In London, it provided aficionados the opportunity to hear the latest big hits from the continent, and for the great singers either to save their memories by trotting out pieces they had just learnt, or to roll out favourite bravura arias that showcased their vocal talents. Read more...
April 1, 2016
Opera Settecento gave Handel’s insightful story of love and war a fine modern airing with superb performances
Premiered in 1725 and given its first modern outing by Opera Settecento at this year’s London Handel Festival, Elpidia, or The Generous Rivals, is one of Handel’s pasticcio. It is a work which the composer, in his role as entrepreneur, assembled from pre-existing music – in this case mostly from arias by Leonardo Vinci and Giuseppe Maria Orlandini. Though frowned on by later generations, the practice was common in the 18th century and occasionally resulted in some strikingly successful music theatre.
Elpidia is set in 6th century Ravenna during the war between the Byzantine forces under Belisario and the Goths led by King Vitige. The “generous rivals” in the title refers to the friends Olindo and Ormonte. Both in love with Elpidia, Queen of Puglia, and each willing to give her up for the sake of the other, they are different from Vitige, who also desires her but is prepared to use underhand means to win her over. The concocted score combines heady beauty with some fine psychological insights. Olindo’s hauteur contrasts nicely with Ormonte’s gentleness. Vitige, in particular, is superbly characterised as a man capable of sincere affection and dangerous anger.
Conducted by Leo Duarte, Opera Settecento performed it with their customary style and commitment. There was some magnificent singing, though Ormonte lies fractionally low for Joe Bolger, and Chris Jacklin had little chance to shine in the thankless role of Belisario. Erica Eloff, on the other hand, rose to the challenges of the taxing title role with superb virtuosity and tonal beauty. Eloff is very much emerging as a singer to watch out for, as are Rupert Charlesworth – thrillingly authoritative and charismatic as Vitige – and Rupert Enticknap as the commanding, technically accomplished Olindo. Maria Ostroukhova sounded very voluptuous as Vitige’s daughter Rosmilda, who is hopelessly in love with Ormonte across enemy lines.
April 1, 2016
Describing Elpidia as a composition of Handel’s would come in for some rough treatment under the Trade Descriptions Act since it is really a pasticcio cobbling together arias from the works of his Italian contemporaries such as Vinci, Lotti, Giacomelli, Capelli, and Orlandini. There may be plenty of other operas from the authentic Handelian canon with which today’s audiences remain unfamiliar but it is still good to hear this even greater rarity and sample this hotchpotch of music originating from the hands of composers who stood alongside Handel as the foremost exponents of opera seria. It is also intriguing to think that while Handel was preparing this work for its premiere in London in 1725, these are the models he looked towards, and at the same time he was also creating masterpieces such as Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano, and Rodelinda.
Anybody with reasonably informed knowledge of Baroque music will recognise Elpidia’s main musical components as not being by Handel, except for the recitatives which he wrote to forge the selection into some order, and possibly one brief duet. Opera Settecento returned to the London Handel Festival following its revival of Catone, another pasticcio, last year. Although the range of arias does not make for a stylistic unity, this nevertheless brought out the best from Leo Duarte and his ensemble who interpreted the character and quirks of the numbers with consistent verve and sprit. To take one example, in Belisario’s aria ‘Dopo il vento’ the performers precisely mimicked the howling of the winds by the oscillating dynamics of their tremolos. In other arias of less musical interest, Duarte still held the audience’s attention with subtle variations of tempo or timbre to bring an otherwise monotonous texture to life.
The story of the rivalry between Olindo and Ormonte for the hand of Elpidia (set against the Dark Age wars of the Goths against Italy) was played out respectively by Rupert Enticknap and Joe Bolger very sensitively, where the other soloists tended to declaim their parts more forcefully (at least initially). Enticknap’s more incisive, steelier-edged quality of singing suited Olindo’s haughty and vengeful pursuit of Elpidia at Ormonte’s expense, whereas Bolger’s softer-grained manner (more in the alto range than soprano) realised Ormonte’s more generous and magnanimous role effectively (as he eventually cedes Elpidia to Olindo).
Erica Eloff’s Elpidia started off almost strident but that is in-keeping with the character, and to her well-rounded tone she could also match notable vocal agility, which served her in good stead both for the technical demands and to reveal more tender affections later on. As the only other female in this opera – Rosmilda, the daughter of the warring Goth, Vitiges – Maria Ostroukhova sang with a more burnished tone, offering an attractive musical presence if less dramatic allure. Chris Jacklin and Rupert Charlesworth projected their parts powerfully, perhaps at some cost to their musical elegance. But they both demonstrated more nuance later in the development of their characters.
In their different ways, then, the soloists and the ensemble drew real personality and vitality from a score which has lain unperformed for nearly three centuries, and that is no achievement in itself.
ADRIANO IN SIRIA (NAPLES, 1734)
OPERA IN THREE ACTS BY GIOVANNI BATTISTA PERGOLESI TO A LIBRETTO BY METASTASIO
[CONCERT PERFORMANCE SUNG IN ITALIAN]
CADOGAN HALL, SEPTEMBER 16, 2015
DAILY TELEGRAPH [ONLINE]
September 17, 2015
In his acceptance speech as newly elected leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn referred admiringly to “passion”, yet as 18th-century opera frequently illustrates, it is an emotion to be restrained.
The most famous librettist, Metastasio, often dealt with the tug-of-war between passion and reason, showing how noble, rational behaviour in the face of adversity can prevent tragedy, leading to catharsis for audience and protagonists alike.
So it is here, where the Roman Emperor Adriano (Hadrian) has conquered the Parthian King Osroa (Osroes) and fallen in love with his daughter Emirena, betrothed to the Parthian prince Farnaspe (Pharnaspes). To make matters worse, Adriano is betrothed to Sabina, a Roman noblewoman with whom his confidant Aquilio is in love.
After an emotional roller-coaster in which Osroa, in disguise, sets fire to the palace, and Aquilio's plots are undone, Adriano forgives the repentant conspirators, frees Osroes and Aquilio, accepts Sabina, and unites Emirena with Farnaspe. Read more...
September 17, 2015
Pergolesi was only 26 when he died from tuberculosis in 1736. Posterity has long acknowledged him as a great composer of sacred music, but we have yet to gain the full measure of his operas, only one of which, the impish little comedy La Serva Padrona, has been heard with any frequency. The very different Adriano in Siria, dating from 1734, has only just been given its UK premiere by Opera Settecento. It arouses mixed feelings, in truth.
Setting a text by Pietro Metastasio, it’s a meditation on the relationship between sex and power. In Roman-occupied Antioch, the Emperor Hadrian (Adriano) is pressing his attentions on Emirena, daughter of the deposed King Osroa, to the horror of both Emirena’s lover Farnaspe and Adriano’s politically convenient fiancée Sabina. The score is unquestionably beautiful, though there are flaws of shape and emphasis. The second act is glorious, but there’s a preponderance of slow elegiac arias in the first, and too high a proportion of recitative to aria in the third. Pergolesi intended Farnaspe, a role written for the castrato Caffarelli, to be the star: it is Osroa, however, raging, tragic and wonderfully complex, who most fully captured his imagination and forms the centre of dramatic focus.
Opera Settecento performed it with authoritative style and grace, though the roles of Adriano and his duplicitous sidekick Aquilo didn’t always lie comfortably for countertenors Michael Taylor and Cenk Karaferya, the latter battling tonsillitis and omitting one of his arias. Hungarian tenor Gyula Rab, though, was commandingly brilliant as Osroa. Erica Eloff did spectacular things with Farnaspe’s treacherously difficult coloratura. Maria Ostroukhova, a fine dramatic soprano, was the anguished Emirena, Augusta Hebbert the implacably dignified Sabina. Leo Duarte, more familiar as an oboist, conducted with great elegance. It was exquisitely played.
THE IDLEWOMAN: POTTERINGS IN HISTORY AND FICTION
It's no exaggeration to say that I’d been looking forward to this Adriano in Siria since the curtain fell on the last one. It's the first full opera I’ve heard by the precociously gifted Pergolesi, who died at the age of only 26, and who is best known here in England for his haunting Stabat Mater. However, I suspect I'll get to know Adriano itself pretty well by the end of the year. The production company Parnassus will soon be releasing their own new recording of the opera, featuring a rather formidable cast, and Opera Settecento’s concert performance was perfectly timed to whet appetites and throw down the gauntlet. Read more...
September 18, 2015
Dramatically engaging performance of an unjustly neglected Pergolesi opera seria
Pergolesi is now best known for his Stabat Mater and his comic operas. But these comic operas often started out life as interludes between the acts of a longer opera seria, yet Pergolesi's four opere serie seem to have been forgotten. On Wednesday 16 September 2015 at the Cadogan Hall, Opera Settecento (artistic director Miranda Jackson) gave the first UK performance of Pergolesi's opera Adriano in Siria, a setting of Metastasio's libretto (also set by JC Bach as performed by Classical Opera, see my review) which premiered in Naples in 1734 (two years before Pergolesi's death. Leo Duarte conducted a strong and highly international cast with Michael Taylor as Adriano, Maria Ostroukhova as Emirena, Erica Eloff as Farnaspe, Augusta Hebbert as Sabina, Gyula Rab as Osroa, Cenk Karaferya as Aquilio. Leo Duarte conducted the Orchestra of Opera Settecento playing on period instruments. Read more...
The Passacaglia Test
September 20, 2015
Adriano in Siria is one of several of Metastasio’s opera seria libretti which were used by more than 60 composers, in this case from the first setting in 1732 by Caldara, to the last by Mercadante in 1828; J.C. Bach’s version of 1765 was staged in London earlier in 2015. Adriano ends with a gesture of imperial magnanimity; hence many of the new versions were composed for royal occasions across Europe, such as Pergolesi’s setting, performed in Naples in October 1734, which was dedicated to Charles Bourbon, Duke of Parma and future king of Spain, whose forces had captured the kingdom of Sicily and its capital Naples the previous May. Read more...
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)
Opera Settecento’s cast for LHF's concert performance included at least three finalists of previous festivals’ Handel Singing Competitions, ensuring high vocal and stylistic standards.
Handel’s so-called pasticii – the composer never described them as such – belong to two distinct categories: this, three in number, in which he predominantly recycled music from his own earlier operas, and 12 further “compilation” works assembled from the music of other composers. The London Handel Festival gave Handelians the rare opportunity of sampling one of each type, Catone in Utica – based on a Metastasio setting by Leonardo Leo with additional arias by Vivaldi, Poro, Hasse and Vinci – and Giove in Argo, all but two of whose arias are familiar from other sources. Read more...
Handel’s Catone in Utica casts its musical net wider than Giove, incorporating arias by Vivaldi, Hasse, Porpora and Vinci into a framework provided loosely by a Leonardo Leo/Metastasio original. In this one-off concert performance by Opera Settecento, featuring neither surtitles nor freely available libretto, the Roman plot was frankly baffling, but it says a lot about the nature of pasticcio that it really didn’t matter. Read more...
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...
Cut-and-shut Baroque: Handel's Catone in Utica from Opera Settecento
"I am just come from a long, dull, and consequently tiresome Opera of Handel's, whose genius seems quite exhausted...” Such was the grumpy verdict of John Hervey, first Earl of Bristol, writing to his friend Stephen Fox after a performance of Handel's latest pasticcio, Catone in Utica, on 4 November 1732 at King’s Haymarket. In his quest to give the London public a taste for Italian opera, every season Handel would include a pasticcio, an accepted mode of creating opera in which the organising genius could use a collage of music from different composers to set any given libretto. Pasticcio was thus an ideal way of exposing the audience to several musical styles in one evening, as well as showcasing a variety of singing talent. In 1732, Handel chose Metastasio’s libretto on the tragically noble suicide of Cato the Younger after his defeat by Julius Caesar in Utica in 46 BC, mainly using Leonardo Leo’s 1729 setting from the Venice Carnival, but transposing, editing or even entirely replacing its various arias to suit the skills of the singers he had at his disposal, the pasticcio process which eventually results in a unique work, rather than just a hashed rerun.
One of Handel’s first changes was to alter Cesare from a countertenor to a bass role, leaving Catone as the only countertenor (at the time, castrato) on stage. At St George’s, Hanover Square, the splendid isolation of Catone, philosophically and emotionally, was brought out all the more strongly by the immediate contrast between Christopher Robson’s ineffably soft, silky countertenor and Christopher Jacklin’s powerful, vivid bass: their exchanges felt like a dispute between brain and body, theory and action. Robson stepped in valiantly at only 48 hours’ notice to replace an ailing Andrew Watts, and his courage and commitment can only be admired. Necessarily, Robson could not exert absolute dramatic conviction over his role with so little time, and his performance could not match the others on stage, but he sang with care, stamina and an ethereal lyricism which was truly appealing. If power was lacking, so was any opportunity for preparation. Read more...
Does anybody know if there’s a collective noun for pasticcios? Perhaps a ‘rash’ would be appropriate, as we’re having a spate of them here in London with more to come. The latest offering as part of the London Handel Festival is ‘Handel’s’ Catone, first performed at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket in 1732.
The opera in question is an adaptation of Leonardo Leo’s 1729 setting of Catone in Utica for the Teatro di San Giovanni Crisostomo in Venice, now called the Teatro Malibran. Handel made a number of changes, introducing Londoners to arias by Hasse, Porpora, Vinci and even Vivaldi. If Vivaldi ever knew about this version, it must have added insult to injury that his arias were being used in an opera originally written for his home city by a non-Venetian. Vivaldi himself turned to the libretto in 1735 and produced some remarkable arias in the process. Read more...
2015 seems to be the year of the pasticcio. The main operatic production of this year’s London Handel Festival will be one of his own examples, Giove in Argo (based upon his operas), and this one-off performance featured another, Catone in Utica from 1732 based upon a work by Leonardo Leo, one of the leading lights of Neapolitan opera. The Handel Festival in Halle will programme Semiramide in June, and London audiences of Baroque opera have already had their appetite for this composite form whetted by the performance of one specimen by Vivaldi in February just gone.
With our Romantic conceptions of artistic integrity and originality we probably regard the idea of a pasticcio as artificial and limited, in the way that a composer would stitch together existing numbers from his own or others’ works into a newly assembled collage. The formulaic structure of Baroque opera seria (comprising the basic component of recitative-aria as its building block) can offer a series of discrete receptacles in which composers can explore a given emotional or dramatic situation in some depth, and so the interpolation of arias from other operas need not entail any compromise to aesthetic validity. But in this case even Handel seems to have been stumped in creating a cogent and vivid drama (despite drawing on operas by Hasse, Porpora, Vinci and Vivaldi – though curiously not the latter’s own setting of the libretto – apart from Leo’s own Catone): no fewer than four arias use the stock metaphor of a ship adrift upon the eddying waves of the sea – and two of those are given to Cesare. Read more...
THE IDLEWOMAN: POTTERINGS IN HISTORY AND FICTION
We're all going to be hearing rather a lot about Catone in Utica this year, so let's get things off to a roaring start with a performance I saw last night at St George's, Hanover Square, formerly Handel's parish church, as part of the Festival. Although the opera was put together by Handel for his 1732 season, it's stretching the truth a bit to say that it's by him. Handel had to fill out his programmes somehow and so, at this stage of his career, he often produced one or two pasticcio operas each season alongside his own works. These pasticci were assembled from arias by several other composers and tailored by Handel to meet the taste of his demanding British public. I hasten to add that they were 'demanding' in the sense that they were easily bored by recitative and apparently needed a series of big hits to keep their attention: Catone in Utica is stuffed full of storm arias. Handel's choices are interesting in other ways too: he gave the character of Arbace some surprisingly upbeat arias from other operas, which in turn affects his characterisation (positively, I felt); and he chose to cut Catone's first aria, “Con sì bel nome in fronte”. In some versions this can drag on slightly and I wonder if Handel felt it was best to get his audience straight into the midst of the characters' romantic tribulations. The rather fabulous thing is that Opera Settecento's production last night was the first time that Handel's Catone pasticcio had been staged since 1732. I find that rather wonderful. Read more...
OPERA, INNIT? A GOOD MEZZO AND TITO GUIDE
It was Handel’s habit to put on a pasticcio every season where a libretto was matched with interchangeable arias from other operas and composers. This one is from 1732 and is based on Leonardo Leo’s opera of the same title about good ol’ Roman man of principle Cato. It’s an opera libretto so only marginally about ethics. Mostly it’s about who marries/loves whom.
First off Opera Settecento: buttah sound, played with gusto and spot on all night, even allowed themselves mad playfulness with one number that came dangerously close to a stomping techno beat. Read more...
Griselda (Venice, 1735) by Antonio Vivaldi
Cadogan Hall, London, September 18
PLANET HUGILL, September 19
Bravura performances galore from new opera company in Vivaldi's rare gem
Opera Settecento (musical director Thomas Foster, artistic director Miranda Jackson) is a new company which has been set up to focus on Italian opera seria from the 18th century. They launched themselves with a dazzling concert performance of Vivaldi's Griselda at Cadogan Hall on 18 September 2014. This showcased a new edition of the work which restored Vivaldi's original (and more difficult) first thoughts. The cast was an interesting mix of youth and experience, with a cast including Ronan Busfield, Hilary Summers, Kiandra Howarth, Erica Eloff, Tom Verney, and Andrew Watts. Thomas Foster directed from the harpsichord. READ MORE...
jamesedwardhughes.com, September 19
Opera Settecento’s first production left no doubt that this young Opera Company will make its mark on the Baroque music scene in the years to come.
Opera Settecento burst onto the Baroque music scene with a concert production of Vivaldi’s Griselda at Cadogan Hall. Drawing on internationally renowned singers such as contralto Hilary Summers and countertenor Andrew Watts, as well as promoting up-and-coming new talent, Opera Settecento’s intention is to resurrect the “unjustly neglected ‘opera seria’ scores from the 18th century” which reside in the vaults of libraries and archives all over Europe. The company is led by its Musical Director, Thomas Foster. READ MORE...
BACHTRACK, September 20
Opera Settecento launches new opera venture with Vivaldi’s Griselda.
When compared to the operas of Handel, Vivaldi’s operas are still relative rarities either on stage or in concert. There have been a handful of performances in UK in the last five years, of which I’ve heard two, Ottone in Villa and L’Olimpiade. It was his late opera Griselda (1735) that the newly-formed opera company Opera Settecento chose for their London launch at the Cadogan Hall. As the name suggests, their aim is “to bring to the stage forgotten works from the 1700s” such as operas by Pergelesi, Scarlatti, Caldara, Porpora, Vinci and others. READ MORE...
‘He did it here, he did it here, he did right here!’ Such were Vivaldi’s cries as Goldoni rose to the challenge thrown at him by the composer to rearrange an aria in Zeno’s libretto of Griselda to better suit the talents of Vivaldi’s protégé, Anna Girò. As recorded in Goldoni’s earliest account of meeting the Red Priest, despite receiving a frosty reception from the composer, the young poet impressed Vivaldi enough with this improvised feat to allow him to ‘murder Zeno’s drama’. READ MORE...
OPERA, December 2014
Vivaldi’s Griselda (1735), a late work, has figured prominently among the modern revivals of some of the 194 operas that he claimed to have written. Opera Settecento’s concert performance was enjoyable. The internet supplied in advance Apostolo Zeno’s ample, often-set, poetic libretto as refurbished by Goldoni for Vivaldi’s particular cast. In the hall, a handsome programme book with interesting essays included the somewhat abbreviated text (not always quite accurately lineated) of what was sung, along with an English rendering thereof. (The lighting was slightly too low to make slender italic type readable at a glance.) READ MORE...