Anna Gorbachyova-Ogilvie, Fleur Barron, Miriam Allen, Helen Charlston, Jess Dandy, Hannah Poulsom, Morgan Pearse; London Early Opera/Bridget Cunningham
Signum SIGCD713 142:00 mins (2 discs)
In this world-premiere recording, performing artists shine brightly in a pasticcio opera that was compromised at least partly by its first cast. In 1733, Handel wanted to arrange airs of Johann Adolf Hasse’s Caio Fabbricio; his vocalists, however, insisted on inserting their favourite numbers, by whomever, at key moments. As a result, the music doesn’t sweep the story along as in operas Handel wholly composed himself.
That said, Bridget Cunningham directs Caio Fabbricio brilliantly, leading from the harpsichord to energise the other players, and to give them space to exploit juicy passages. The singers’ virtuosity and rich characterisations are delightful; particularly good are rising stars sopranos Miriam Allan and Anna Gorbachyova-Ogilvie and mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron. Each of the three has a vocal quality optimally suited to her character: Allan’s luminous core for the heroine Sestia, Gorbachyova-Ogilvie’s velvety textures for the lover Velusio, and Barron’s dark hues for the brutish ruler Pirro.
Allan shines brightest, with fiery runs, boldly sustained top notes and the tenderness of her air ‘Caro sposa’. Gorbachyova-Ogilvie and Barron deliver thrills as well, the former jousting in her last Act II aria with obbligato horns over which she triumphs, the latter smashing the final bars of her Act III finale by dropping to a baritone-like chest register.
Caio Fabbricio contains much fine music and compels fresh admiration of Handel’s orchestral skills. Execution of this project is uniformly excellent. But the work appeals most when listened to as an 18th-century audience member would, passing over its far-fetched plot and episodic numbers to focus on the singers’ arts.