WORKS: Il Gedeone
PERFORMER: Kai Wessel (countertenor), Ulf Bästlein (bass), Linda Perillo (soprano), Jörg Waschinski (countertenor); Vokalensemble Nova, Wiener Akademie/Martin Haselböck
CATALOGUE NO: 999 615-2
With a libretto based on the Old Testament account of Gideon and his non-violent triumph over the Midianites, the Neapolitan composer Nicola Porpora (1686-1768) produced a score which, though far from consistent, has moments of great beauty. Among them are Gideon’s aria ‘Cadranno i lupi’; a sublime Sinfonia at the opening of Part Two; a couple of fine choruses and, above all, beautifully wrought recitatives. These apart, don’t expect a forgotten masterpiece.
This performance – the first in modern times – boasts competent and well-matched soloists. Countertenor Kai Wessel as the eponymous hero gives a poised and musical account, though his voice could benefit from a weightier lower register. Male soprano Jörg Waschinski produces an ethereal, emasculated sound that is, perhaps, as close as we can come to that of the original soprano castrato who sang the part of Gideon’s enemy, Oreb. (Pity the man – he ends up losing his head, not to mention his unmentionables.) But most impressive is soprano Linda Perillo (Gideon’s wife, Sichemi) whose singing is by turns agile, sensuous and dramatic. Martin Haselböck draws some silvery string playing from the Vienna Academy, and if his shaping of the oratorio can lack momentum, at least he avoids the aggressively hard-driven style of some period performances. Kate Bolton