PERFORMER: Derek Lee Ragin, Sandrine Piau, Doris Lamprecht, Olivier Lallouette, Vanda Tabery, Guy FlechterLes Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
CATALOGUE NO: 592245 DDD (distr. Nimbus)
Composed in haste, the stopgap Scipione proved to be one of Handel’s more popular operas at its initial run in 1726. Inexplicably so, since it is among his weaker works. Its chief drawback is a libretto (by Rolli) that is unpoetic and uneventful – the most dramatic on-stage action is a man changing his mind! But the music too, though showing Handel’s customary grace under pressure, lacks both depth and variety. The arias trip past, momentarily charming, but finally insubstantial. A handful of stirring exceptions includes Ernando’s stout defence of honour, ‘Tutta rea la vita umana’, the heroine Berenice’s enticing siciliano ‘Un caro amante’ and her virtuoso showpiece ‘Scoglio d’immata fronte’.
This is the first Scipione on record. Opting for the 1726 original (the opera was briefly revived, much altered, in 1730), Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques deliver a highly polished performance, and the singing, particularly by Ragin, Piau and Lamprecht, is flowing and assured. But for all the care lavished on it, Scipione remains irredeemably lightweight. With several excellent operas yet to appear on CD – Ariodante, Poro, Admeto, Sosarme – the decision to record such a minor Handel work seems singularly perverse. Graham Lock