In his lifetime, Handel’s final opera was a failure, running for just three performances on its London premiere in 1741, and even today it garners few productions. But this March 2012 Netherlands Opera staging, created by David Alden working with designers Paul Steinberg (sets) and Constance Hoffman (costumes), demonstrates its considerable qualities.
Alden’s approach is lightly ironic, matching well with a piece that treats its material with a knowing air. Named after the daughter of Licomede, king of the Greek island of Skyros, the opera tells how the young hero Achille was sent there by his father as preparations for the Trojan War were going forward, and disguised as a woman to keep him safe. In on the secret, Deidamia duly falls in love with him. Ulisse, meanwhile, has been sent to winkle Achille out to help the war effort. Visuals (especially vividly on the Blu-ray version) blend modern costumes with those from the ancient world, which come to dominate as Achille eventually accepts his fate.
Complications arising from the multi-disguised, partially cross-dressed set-up motivate the arias, many of them lighter in tone than in Handel’s earlier operas. Ivor Bolton and Concerto Köln provide the expert musical underpinning. Sally Matthews shines as a vocally and physically poised Deidamia, Olga Pasichnyk emphasises the lusty young man hiding beneath Achille’s skirts, and Silvia Tro Santafé’s Ulisse presents him with a credible rival.
No track listing in the booklet, though there’s a generously proportioned documentary incorporating interviews with the cast and creative team.