Handel: Rodrigo

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Ambroisie
WORKS: Rodrigo
PERFORMER: Maria Riccarda Wesseling, María Bayo, Sharon Rostorf-Zamir, Kobie van Rensburg, Max Emanuel Cencic, Anne-Catherine Gillet; Al Ayre Español/Eduardo López Banzo
CATALOGUE NO: AM 132

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Since the main title – which translates as ‘To conquer oneself is the greatest victory’ – is such a mouthful, it’s not surprising that Handel’s opera is better known as Rodrigo, after the last Visigoth king of Spain around whom the action centres. That said, this early work – his first opera composed for Italy, premiered in Florence in 1707 – is in fact scarcely known at all.

Until quite recently much of it was missing, and though discoveries have plugged some gaps a couple still remain. Here one aria and a farewell duet have been borrowed from other Handel works, and one or two recitatives have been newly composed – altogether in a perfect stylistic match.

More importantly, this is a major work of outstanding accomplishment and maturity. In fact, it’s on the same level as Handel’s next opera, Agrippina, often reckoned one of his finest. The plot describes how the Spanish king, having started an affair and fathered a child with Florinda, sees his kingdom taken from him due to her desire for revenge and her brother’s equal enmity. Only the extraordinary fidelity and wisdom of his wife, Esilena, rescues the situation and allows him to bring matters to a positive conclusion.

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The performance is not perfect nor the recording ideal, but it has genuine momentum and demonstrates the quality of the piece itself. Particularly impressive are Kobie van Rensburg’s Giuliano, María Bayo’s characterful (if occasionally poorly tuned) Esilena, and Anne-Catherine Gillet’s Evanco. George Hall