PERFORMER: Marilyn Horne, Cecilia Gasdia, Ernesto Palacio, Christine Weidinger; La Fenice Theatre Orchestra, Venice/John Fisher
CATALOGUE NO: Era 6813-14 Reissue (1989)
This atrocious live recording from La Fenice was made in 1989, long after Marilyn Horne had passed her best in the theatre. Its reissue does nobody any credit. Rinaldo, the first Italian opera Handel composed for London, ought to be an extravagant display-piece, but this clumsy performance of an intrusively abridged version is consistently and woefully short of spectacular.
Horne’s ‘Cara sposa’, sung at the wrong point in the opera, is gratuitously self-indulgent and feebly delivered, unconstrained by good taste or accuracy concerning Handel’s score. Yet the under-par Horne remains the best element in an awful experience: Cecilia Gasdia’s shrill Almirena would scare the birds away in ‘Augelletti’, her out-of-tune ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ is embarrassing and she gets completely befuddled in ‘Bel piacere’. ‘Ah! crudel’ is nonsensically assigned to Almirena instead of Armida, but this is a blessing because Christine Weidinger’s Armida is even worse, with no grip on the rhythm or rhetoric of ‘Furie terribili!’, and regularly behind the beat and below the note in ‘Vo far guerra’: one is thankful that the truncation of the badly played harpsichord solo reduces the pain.
John Fisher’s tempi are sensible: his direction of the La Fenice orchestra is acceptable, but it’s overshadowed by the way he allows his singers to eschew ornamentation in favour of aesthetically implausible recomposition. This reissue is strictly for those who prefer their Handel operas to be a masochistic experience. Anybody wishing to discover something more in tune with both Handel and itself should cling to Christopher Hogwood’s excellent recording. David Vickers