LABELS: Virgin Veritas
PERFORMER: Gloria Banditelli, Sandrine Piau, Elena Cecchi Fedi, Rufus Müller; Caterina Calvi; Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
CATALOGUE NO: VCD 5 45897 2
Until recently, so much of this first opera that Handel wrote for Italy was lost that it was unviable to stage it. The rediscovery of the missing material, a triumph of scholarly detective work, reveals the confident high spirits which characterise so much of Handel’s music during his Italian visit. It lacks the instrumental colours of his more lavish London productions, with many arias supported by continuo alone. All are here, complete (even six which Handel himself discarded), but many are brief and, under Curtis’s lively direction, the dramatic tension builds up splendidly. He has also shortened the recitative, reflecting Handel’s own tendency later, in England, when writing for a non-Italian speaking audience.
After a fleeting moment of uncertainty in the Overture, the orchestral playing is superb throughout. Both Banditelli (Rodrigo) and Calvi (Fernando) are well-characterised in their trouser roles, an apt touch of darkness in the voice reflecting Handel’s original castrati. Piau is appealing as Rodrigo’s forgiving wife in some of the most memorable arias – her first with delicate flutes, in Act II, confusing the ear with ambiguous up-beat rhythms. Fedi, as Rinaldo’s rejected mistress, is uncomfortably hard-edged when passions are roused. Outstanding is Müller, duetting alluringly with bassoon, strutting arrogantly in a victory celebration. George Pratt