Handel: Arminio

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Virgin Veritas
WORKS: Arminio
PERFORMER: Vivica Genaux, Geraldine McGreevy, Dominique Labelle, Manuela Custer, Luigi Petroni, Sytse Buwalda, Riccardo Ristori; Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
Arminio was first performed in London in January 1737 when Handel’s rivalry with the competing ‘Opera of the Nobility’ was at its height. Three months later, exhausted, the composer suffered a breakdown in health and later left for Aachen in search of a cure. Further operas followed after his return to London but the great triumphs of earlier seasons were not to be repeated. The text of Arminio, by one of Handel’s favourite librettists, Antonio Salvi, is rather a good one; and its strong dramatic sense and above-average literary merit is matched, as usual, by some fine musical characterisation. The story concerns the German leader Hermann (Arminius) whose fight for freedom against Roman occupiers, early in the first century AD is ultimately successful. Alan Curtis and his mainly Italian ensemble Il Complesso Barocco have already provided us with the only recorded versions of Handel’s Admeto and Rodrigo. This new venture is comparably stylish, briskly moving and mainly well sung. The prevailing seriousness of the piece is established at once by its overture and by the duet of Arminius and his wife Tusnelda. But there is plenty of expressive variety and a wealth of fine arias – ‘Quella fiamma’ (Act II), with its brilliant oboe obbligato, is among the most arresting of them – the changing colours of whose music is a constant delight. Curtis directs all with rhythmic vitality. Nicholas Anderson