Handel: Giove in Argo
When the Earl of Middlesex and his rackety mistress, La Moscovita, launched a season of Italian opera to clash with Handel’s oratorios Saul and Israel in Egypt, the composer’s counterattack was swift. First performed on May Day, 1739, Giove in Argo, although concocted by Handel from various sources, is no ordinary pasticcio: with the exception of three pretty numbers by Francesco Araja, this setting of a libretto first heard in Antonio Lotti’s treatment of 1717 is a parade of Handel’s then-recent hits, with music drawn from Teseo, Alcina, Scipione, Atalanta, Giustino, Acis and Galatea and other works. Though pastoral in tone, its nymphs and shepherds are gods and royalty in disguise. The fickle London public was unimpressed. Giove in Argo closed after two performances and slid into obscurity.
Recorded for the first time by Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco, this reconstruction is notable for the unusual balance between arias and choruses, of which there are nine, and the vivacity of its scoring for horns, oboe and recorders. Though the voices blend oddly with Curtis’s choir, the choral writing is delicious. Hallenberg excels in Act II, the first half of which is constructed almost as a cantata, the second half a mad scene. Elsewhere, the performance is tidy but tepid, especially in comparison with the Early Opera Company’s Alceste. A theatrical revival seems unlikely, but Handel completists will find Giove in Argo hard to resist.