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)
28 March 2015
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.
With recitative slashed to the minimum and tragedy soft-pedalled in favour of tempestuous virtuosity, musical sensation was everything. Directing from the harpsichord, Tom Foster whipped his orchestra into a joyous frenzy, strings supplying all the rhetoric lost by the words in the thick acoustic of St George’s, Hanover Square, goading the superb young cast on to ever-greater agility. Handel Festival regular Emilie Renard was a boyishly believable Arbace, while bass-baritone Christopher Jacklin’s Cesare alternately thundered and shimmied in coloratura all the more thrilling for being so completely unexpected. Stealing hearts and laurels, though, was 2014 Ferrier Award-winner Christina Gansch. A 24-carat voice allied to real dramatic poise, at only 25 this soprano is already everything this repertoire was designed to showcase. Gesamtkunstwerk be damned; sometimes opera doesn’t need to be everything to be really something. Pasticcio’s empty virtuosity makes a star of music itself. When that music is as good as this, who needs or wants more?