Handel: Berenice

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Newport
WORKS: Berenice
PERFORMER: Julianne Baird, D’Anna Fortunato, Jennifer Lane, Drew Minter; Brewer CO/Rudolph Palmer
CATALOGUE NO: NPD 85620 DDD (distr. RRD)
The current, welcome and eagerly monitored effusion of recorded Handel opera continues with Berenice, which makes its first appearance on disc. Every child who ever learnt the recorder or played in a school orchestra will probably know the famous ‘Minuet’ included in the Overture, but they can be forgiven for knowing little else from the work since it is so rarely performed. That its premiere in London in 1737 was a failure had little to do with Handel’s score but more with a growing public indifference to Italian opera. The music, as seasoned Handelians will not need to be told, is of high quality (though not perhaps at once among his most alluring scores), and Antonio Salvis’s libretto, concerned with politics and romance, provides the composer with opportunity for lively duets and evocative ‘simile’ arias.

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The cast is strong, though not uniformly so, with soprano Julianne Baird in the title role. Her passionate and unusually constructed ‘Chi t’intende?’ (Act III), with its notably elaborate oboe obbligato, and her duet with soprano Jennifer Lane (Demetrio) at the end of Act I are two of the highlights of opera and performance alike, while mezzo D’Anna Fortunato’s ‘Tortorella’ aria (Selene, Act III) is another. Rudolph Palmer sets effective tempi and the Brewer Chamber Orchestra of period instruments (woodwind and strings), though responsive to his direction, is on occasion lacking in tonal warmth. Nicholas Anderson