ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Arianna in Creta
PERFORMER: Mata Katsuli, Mary-Ellen Nesi, Irini Karaianni, Marita Paparizou, Theodora Baka, Petros Magoulas; Orchestra of Patras/George Petrou
CATALOGUE NO: 609 1375-2
The overture’s catchy minuet with its saccadé rhythm used to be as popular as that belonging to Handel’s opera Berenice; but you hardly ever hear it nowadays – the only previously existing recording that I can recall is getting on for half a century old. By my calculations, this new uncut release of Arianna fills the last remaining gap in Handel’s generally available operas on disc. He completed it in October 1733 for the forthcoming season at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket where it was well received. The text is an adaptation by an unidentified hand of one by Pietro Pariati and is concerned with one of the great monster legends of Classical literature, that of Theseus who, with the help of Ariadne and her thread, finds his way through the Labyrinth to the Minotaur and kills it.
Handel’s score is a delight from start to finish, neither the plot nor several of the scenes being as indifferent as some have claimed. Handel’s new principal castrato, the great Carestini, sang the role of Theseus, and his leading soprano Anna Maria Strada that of Ariadne. Handel wrote beguiling music for both of these, as well as for Carlo Scalzi, the other castrato in the cast who sang the role of Alceste. Theseus’s ‘Sdegnata sei con me’
(Act I), in which he reiterates to Ariadne his love for her, is among the loveliest of them all, though virtuosic numbers such as ‘Qui ti sfido’ are
no less compelling.
The almost entirely Greek cast of singers and period instrumentalists under George Petrou offers a mainly stylish if at times underpowered account of the piece. Notwithstanding a few disappointments – Mata Katsuli’s predilection for scooping up to the top notes of wider intervals in Ariadne’s tender simile aria which concludes Act II becomes irritating – and a rather murky recorded sound, the overall impression is favourable. Nicholas Anderson