PERFORMER: Ann Monoyios, Jamie MacDougall, Patricia Rozario, David Thomas; Fiori Musicali/Andrew Lawrence-King
CATALOGUE NO: 999 275-2
In December 1704, the 19-year-old Handel quarrelled with his friend Johann Mattheson and the pair fought a duel, the latter’s sword shattering against a metal button on Handel’s coat. Had it struck an inch either side, the history of Western music would have been very different. As it was, the two were quickly reconciled and a few weeks later Mattheson sang in Handel’s debut opera, Almira. Premiered in Hamburg on 8 January 1705, it was deemed a great success.
In retrospect, Almira seems very much an apprentice work, its brief arias rarely hinting at Handel’s later genius. A convoluted tale of royal love-tangles, part-romance, part-comedy, its German libretto incorporating several arias in Italian, Almira is a stylistic hodge-podge on which the young composer fails to impose cohesion. Yet the music often beguiles, and Handel deftly varies his instrumental colours, an effect vitiated on this recording by the excessive reshuffling of the continuo line-up. Ann Monoyios and Glaswegian tenor Jamie MacDougall head a capable singing team (though Patricia Rozario sounds overstretched on the high notes) and Fiori Musicali offer sensitive, workmanlike playing. But Handel’s fitful first opera is slight indeed compared to mature gems such as Ariodante, Orlando and Giulio Cesare. Graham Lock