Many Handel operas are great dramas that are profoundly moving, occasionally amusing, or even austere, but his first Italian opera composed for London is primarily an entertainment. There are several recordings already (not least the disappointing Nuova Era set reviewed last month), but here is yet another new interpretation. Even if Handelians did not need another Rinaldo as much as a Lotario, this is an intriguing and admirably executed performance.
Inga Kalna is a spectacular, steely Armida: her contrasting vocalisation of anguished rejection and subsequent rage at the end of Act II has exactly the ‘enchanting’ quality a tempestuous sorceress needs. The title role is taken by mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux: her contribution is adequately dynamic, although ‘Cara sposa’ is brittle and an anticlimactic ‘Or la tromba’ lacks panache. Miah Persson is a fabulous Almirena whose ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ is beautifully sung. Lawrence Zazzo is impressive as Goffredo, and Christophe Dumaux (Eustazio) is another promising young countertenor. The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra consolidates its reputation as a body of great technicians.
René Jacobs provides an extensive essay that attempts to pass off his frequently idiosyncratic artistic decisions as historically plausible performance practice. I remain unconvinced, and Hogwood’s relatively reverential approach is infinitely more sensible – which can be either praise or criticism depending upon how sensible you want your performances of Baroque opera seria to be. Hogwood is less theatrical than Jacobs, but his unfussy arias are more naturally paced and charismatically delivered. Jacobs offers an enjoyable and provocative alternative, but it is wise to be sceptical about some of the methods that make it so. David Vickers