Until now, anyone seeking a recording of Handel’s 1736 wedding present to Frederick Prince of Wales would be reliant upon a mid-1980s set from Capella Savaria and Nicholas McGegan. Now there’s a rival live recording, spearheaded again by McGegan, who must have a soft spot for the piece.
That Atalanta is neglected in the opera house is perhaps understandable given its dramatic weaknesses. The story untangles the amours of shepherds and shepherdesses (real or disguised), abruptly wrapped up with a deus ex machina guest appearance by Mercury, expediting a fireworks-fuelled happy ending. But Handel invested some fine music in the enterprise, keen to impress a Prince who was inclined to favour Porpora’s rival opera company at the Haymarket. On disc, too, it’s easier to overlook the dramatic shortcomings of this opera.
Dominique Labelle’s Atalanta is every inch the blue-blooded shepherdess whose inner Princess surfaces with her exquisitely polished tone. She also produces some deliciously seductive sighs before the da capo of ‘Se nasce un rivoletto’. Impressive, too, is Susanne Rydén’s breathtaking verve in dispatching the high notes that Handel introduced to showcase the young castrato, Gioacchino Conti.
Indeed, the casting is strong throughout, with Michael Slattery’s bold and resolute Aminta artfully complementing the velvety-sounding Irene of Cécile van de Sant. As ever, McGegan directs with incisive intelligence, drawing wonderfully spirited playing from the Philharmonia Baroque.