Erica Eloff, Fflur Wyn, Anna Dennis, Jorge Navarro Colorado, Russell Harcourt and Leandro Marziotte; Göttingen Festival Orchestra/Laurence Cummings
Accent ACC 26412 167:40 mins (3 discs)
Written in 1707 when Handel was 22, Rodrigo was his first Italian opera. After its premiere it disappeared until its revival in 1984, since when it’s only had a handful of productions, the latest of which is this one with the FestspielOrchester Göttingen under Laurence Cummings’s expert direction. As this is a live recording, there are inevitably moments when the microphones aren’t ideally placed, and the voices are out of focus.
Rodrigo may not be Handel at his most sublime – it reflects the influence of Alessandro Scarlatti – but it was enthusiastically received, and the composer was rewarded with ‘100 sequins and a service of plate’. And as the recitatives and arias pour out of Handel’s cornucopia it bowls along with compelling grace. The longer version of its original title – Vincer se stesso e la maggior vittoria (‘To overcome oneself is the greater victory’) – sums up the plot: the Visigoth king Rodrigo cheats on his wife Esilena and sires a son by Florinda, whose brother Giuliano seeks revenge; enemy prince Evanco is also in love with Florinda; war is the backdrop, but everyone proves a good egg in the end.
Vocally the work is almost all in the top register, with three sopranos, two high countertenors, and one tenor. Moreover, this imbalance is compounded by the fact that one of the countertenors – Russell Harcourt, singing Evanco – has such an exquisitely feminine sound that when he duets with Fflur Wyn’s Esilena it’s hard to tell their voices apart. Likewise, you might not know whether it’s Wyn or Erica Eloff’s Rodrigo when they sing together, unless you follow the libretto. But no praise could be too high for the musicianship of this brilliant sextet, or of Cummings’s instrumental ensemble: there’s ravishing continuo playing and a warm tutti sound.