PERFORMER: James Bowman, Simon Baker, Joanne Lunn, Rachel Nicholls, Natasha Marsh, Elizabeth Cragg, Christopher Dixon; London Handel Orchestra/Denys Darlow
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 227-8
Silla is the opera that never was. Score, libretto and wordbook have survived, but there are no records of an actual performance. Critics have suggested a private performance or a last-minute cancellation could explain matters: though neither seems likely, we simply don’t know. What is certain is that Handel composed the music in the late spring of 1713 and that Giacomo Rossi supplied the libretto.
The libretto, which outlines Lucio Cornelio Silla’s deranged dictatorship in first century BC Rome, is very weak. There is little characterisation and the plot becomes increasingly implausible. Yet Handel’s music rises above the banality to remain lively and engaging throughout. Highlights include an affecting love duet (‘Sol per te, bell’idol mio’), a stirring trumpet aria (‘Con tromba guerriera’) and a moving lament (‘Sei già morto’).
This premiere recording comes from a live concert performance in London in April 2000. With the exception of James Bowman’s ripe Silla, I found both singing and playing too understated, even bland at times. Still, lack of flair aside, these discs do provide a largely enjoyable account of a genuine Handel rarity. Graham Lock