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Handel: Amadigi (Early Opera Co)

Early Opera Company/Christian Curnyn (Chandos)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Amadigi di Gaula
Tim Mead, Mary Bevan, Anna Dennis, Hilary Summers, Patrick Terry; Early Opera Company/Christian Curnyn
Chandos CHSA 0406(2) (CD/SACD)   157:16 mins (2 discs)

Handel took a less-is-more approach to his Amadigi di Gaula. Christian Curnyn’s answering restraint reveals the stark solos, shimmering textures, ringing silences and stunning one-to-a-part counterpoint of music that fairly bursts with its composer’s early genius. Written in 1715 to indulge King George I’s French taste, Amadigi is Handel’s three-act Italian opera version of a five-act 1699 tragédie lyrique. Its action revolves around jealous sorceress Melissa’s failure to wrest Amadigi from his beloved Oriana, a story which moved Handel to write starkly contrasting numbers, including nine slow laments and some of the most sensual wind solos of his career. Curnyn casts the work’s voice, obbligato and continuo parts into perfect constellations, as in ‘Penna tiranno’, whose mournful bassoon part overflows and overcomes everyone else, echoing the aria’s words.

At the centre of the drama is Melissa, sung by Mary Bevan with transfixing intensity as her character’s emotional state tips from anger into joy, and from triumph into despair. Tim Mead gives depth to Amadigi, who flits between tender drawn-out siciliano melodies and despairing coloratura-stuffed arias. Through serene vocal strength, Anna Dennis conveys Oriana’s artless power. The instrumentalists’ playing is revelatory, the grace they bring to vocal-woodwind exchanges, and not least the brashness of the horn in Melissa’s show-stopping ‘Desterò dall’empia Dite’ make this a memorable performance.

Berta Joncus