Handel's 'Partenope' starring Karina Gauvin and Philippe Jaroussky
'Il Pomo d’Oro plays with tremendous attention to detail, as responsive to variations of timbre, articulation and dynamic as the singers'
As librettos go, Silvio Stampiglia’s Partenope was one of the most widely travelled. First set to music in Naples by Luigi Mancia in 1699, it was set by the Mexican Manuel de Zumaya 20 years before Handel’s 1730 premiere in London. With fame came notoriety for what is, essentially, a sex farce. The Royal Academy of Music’s Owen Swiny described it in 1726 as ‘the very worst book (excepting one) that I ever read in my whole life.’ Dramaturgically speaking, Swiny had a point; but Handel’s setting is a moreish confection of limpid sicilianos, ebullient coloratura, startling martial music and a plangent Act III sommeil for the primo uomo, Arsace (Jaroussky).
Directed by Riccardo Minasi on violin and viola d’amore, Il Pomo d’Oro plays with tremendous attention to detail, as responsive to variations of timbre, articulation and dynamic as the singers: in Arsace’s ‘Ma quai note di questi lamenti’, the orchestra fades almost to nothing in the hushed final cadence. As the siren Partenope, Karina Gauvin brings an easy glamour. John Mark Ainsley is a suave Emilio, brilliant in ‘La gloria in nobil alma’. Teresa Iervolino smoulders attractively as the disguised Rosmira, while Emöke Baráth is deliciously slinky in Armindo’s ‘Non chiedo, oh luci vaghe’. Were the recitatives a touch faster and less deliberate, it would be a perfect performance.