Handel: Partenope

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Handel – Partenope
WORKS: Partenope
PERFORMER: Rosemary Joshua, Lawrence Zazzo, Hilary Summers, Kurt Strit, Stephen Wallace, Andrew Foster-Williams; Early Opera Company/Christian Curnyn
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0719
Like that other great anti-heroic comedy, Serse, Partenope (1730) did not go down well with Handel’s London audiences. One theatre agent even thought that the plot, centring on the amorous entanglements of Queen Partenope, legendary founder of Naples, would encourage ‘depravity of Taste’. Today, though, it seems one of Handel’s most delightful operas: a witty yet humane exposé of lovers’ foibles that pokes fun at the conventions and attitudinising of opera seria. The character and philosophy of the flighty Queen, wilfully manipulating her gaggle of admirers, is epitomised by her kittenish minuet aria ‘Qual Farfalletta’. Other highlights include a dramatic quartet and trio in Act III, vehement numbers (including a show-stopping ‘hunting’ aria) for the cross-dressing Rosmira, the spurned princess bent on revenge, and a ravishing sleep scene for Arsace, the object of her derision who, like nearly everyone else, is hopelessly in love with Partenope.

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Christian Curnyn is not always the most theatrical of conductors; and on occasion – say, in the trio and quartet – the music can jog where it should fizz. But the orchestral playing is neat and graceful, and the cast without any weak links. The undoubted star is Rosemary Joshua, who catches all Partenope’s wayward, caressing sensuality, and deliciously uses the decorations in the da capos to enhance her flirtatiousness. Hilary Summers’ dark, masculine tones are apt for disguised Rosmira, Kurt Streit brings an agile, incisive tenor to the role of Emilio, the warrior prince who fails to snare Partenope. Lawrence Zazzo is an intense, volatile Arsace, while Stephen Wallace’s smoother, rounder countertenor impresses as the faithful, long-suffering Armindo who finally gets his reward. Richard Wigmore