Handel: Berenice, regina d’Egitto

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Berenice, Regina d’Egitto
PERFORMER: Klara Ek, Ingela Bohlin, Franco Fagioli, Romina Basso, Mary-Ellen Nesi, Vito Priante, Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani; Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
CATALOGUE NO: 628 5362

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Shortly before the premiere of Berenice, Regina d’Egitto, a harried and depleted Handel lost the use of his right arm. Rheumatism or stroke, this temporary paralysis marked the beginning of the end of his career as an opera impresario.

Berenice closed after four performances, and the man who had made London the capital of Italian opera would instead turn to writing oratorios.

No forgotten masterpiece, Berenice explores the tension between self and duty as the young Egyptian queen (soprano Klara Ek) considers the strategic values of marrying Demetrio (countertenor Franco Fagioli) or the Roman delegate, Alessandro (soprano Ingela Bohlin), with her sister Silene (mezzo Romina Basso) as a runners-up prize. How seriously we are meant to take the confusion between the various pairs of lovers is not clear.

Alan Curtis’s performance is somewhat cautious. The musicians of Il Complesso Barocco need to vary their timbre and attack with greater dynamism if they are to promote Handel’s slighter works. Much of his writing is attractive: the fluttering figures of ‘Tortorella che rimira’, the coloratura of Silene’s ‘Gelo, avvampo’, the Act III Sinfonia that would reappear as Music for the Royal Fireworks.

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But the characterisation of the title role has a complexity not unlike that of Rodelinda. Spurred on by superior material, most particularly the extended aria ‘Chi t’intende?’ with oboe obbligato (Patrick Beaugirard), Ek delivers an outstanding performance in the soft-grained acoustics of the Villa San Fermo, Lonigo. Anna Picard