Handel: Riccardo Primo, re d’Inghilterra

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: L’OISEAU-LYRE
WORKS: Riccardo Primo, re d’Inghilterra
PERFORMER: Sara Mingardo, Sandrine Piau, Olivier Lallouette, Roberto Scaltriti, Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
CATALOGUE NO: 452 201-2
Riccardo Primo is one of Handel’s most lavishly scored operas. Timpani and trumpets are ingeniously deployed, as is a rich array of woodwinds, including traversa bassa flute and piccolo recorder. Composed in 1727 for the starring trio of Cuzzoni and Faustina, rival prima donnas, and the great castrato Senesino, it also boasts a number of enthralling arias, notably several tragic laments for the heroine Costanza and, in ‘T’amo, si!’, one of those gloriously sensuous love duets at which Handel excelled.

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Yet Riccardo has been strangely neglected. Handel never revived it, despite its initial success, and it was not performed again in England until 1964. Now, after a further 32 years, comes this world premiere recording. Christophe Rousset and his team have done an excellent job. Contralto Sara Mingardo, making her recording debut, is a thrilling, authoritative Riccardo, and soprano Sandrine Piau is a moving Costanza, singing with great beauty of tone. The other singers impress too, and Les Talens Lyriques are alert to the score’s dynamic shadings.

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Riccardo Primo can’t be counted among Handel’s greatest operas; the plot is often implausible, the characters somewhat cardboard. But Rousset has revived a work of exceptional musical merit, and this fine performance will surely give pleasure to all. Graham Lock