Handel: Amadigi di Gaula

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: NAIVE
ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Amadigi di Gaula
PERFORMER: Maria Riccarda Wesseling, Elena de la Merced, Sharon Rostorf-Zamir, Jordi Domènech; Al Ayre Español/Eduardo López Banzo
CATALOGUE NO: Na•ve AM 133

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It’s almost 20 years since Marc Minkowski made his recording of Handel’s ‘magic’ opera, Amadigi di Gaula (1715). None has appeared commercially since then, so this new release is especially welcome. The libretto is an adaptation by an unidentified hand of a French text by Antoine Houdar de la Motte (set by André Destouches in 1699). Based on a celebrated Spanish epic, the story features demons, furies, phantoms, ivory towers and much else associated with the world of magic. Events take place in Gaul where sorceress Melissa attempts to seduce Amadigi from Oriana, the king’s daughter. Orianna is also loved by Thracian Prince Dardano. These characters represent – with the exception of Orgando, a non-part if ever there was one – the sole dramatis personae of the opera. Eduardo López Banzo has been delighting listeners for over a decade with his discs of Spanish Baroque music; but this is his first excursion to my knowledge into Handelian opera. He paces the drama effectively and brings Handel’s attractively varied score to life with charm and stylistic authority. Minkowski’s rival version has many strengths, among them a strong cast of soloists. Though much less of a celebrity list than the other, Banzo’s singers nevertheless make a favourable impression. Sharon Rostorf-Zamir’s Melissa and Maria Riccarda Wesseling’s Amadigi are especially rewarding; but there is much else here that is affecting and I doubt very much if readers will be disappointed either by the singing and sympathetic instrumental playing, or by Handel’s consistently beguiling, often sensuous music – and none more so than Oriana’s ‘Dolce vita’ at the beginning of Act III – on the other. Nicholas Anderson