Athalia: George Frideric Handel (1733)

Aparicio: Athaliah and Joash

★★★★

(29 April 2019, London Handel Singers and Orchestra at St John’s Smith Square)

The final event of my Handel Festival this year was Athalia, a Handel oratorio written in 1733 and first performed during his brief summer sojourn in Oxford. It’s a strange beast, with ingredients that would make for a splendid opera seria in the hands of Metastasio. Just think: a murderous queen who has wiped out her own grandchildren in order to rule Jerusalem; an heir to the throne raised in secret; the clash between the old Jewish religion and the newly-revived worship of Baal! Surely that’s crying out for at least a couple of overly showy arias?! However, such foreign indulgences were trimmed from Handel’s oratorios, reflecting the changing tastes of British audiences, and the exuberance of Italian libretti is replaced by a self-consciously worthy text adapted by Samuel Humphreys from Racine. It’s peppered by the kind of awkward 18th-century rhymes you can see approaching with grim determination from a mile away. Fortunately, Handel livens things up with fine music and reliably rousing choruses; and I confess that, by the end, my instinctive suspicions of the oratorio genre had softened. Somewhat.

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Xerxes: George Frideric Handel (1738)

Anna Stéphany

★★★★ ½

(Early Opera Company at St John’s Smith Square, 18 November 2016)

With only one production so far this year, I’ve had Xerxes withdrawal symptoms, but fortunately the Early Opera Company and Christian Curnyn were there to save the day with a concert performance at St John’s Smith Square last Friday. This was billed as a concert version of their truly excellent studio recording from 2013, but in fact the entire cast is different, with one crucial exception: Anna Stéphany as the brat-prince himself. The change of cast didn’t matter, however, as EOC drafted in some of the brightest young things around, and the result was classy, perfectly-paced and probably (on balance) the best-sounding Xerxes I’ve yet heard live. Coming from me, that’s high praise.

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Elpidia: George Frideric Handel (1725)

Handel: Elpidia

★★★½

(Opera Settecento, St George’s Hanover Square, 31 March 2016)

Herewith another post from the depths of the drafts folder, which I hope still may be of some interest. I’m keen to post it because I’m a great fan of Opera Settecento’s habit of unearthing rare and unusual operas and this performance featured some of my favourite young singers. Many apologies for its lateness, but it all happened around the time of my uncle’s death and I wasn’t really up to blogging at the time. But I had a few scribbled thoughts and wanted to jostle them into some sense of order, so that I can have a record of this enjoyable and particularly complex pasticcio.

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Hercules: George Frideric Handel (1745)

Alice Coote

★★★

(The English Concert directed by Harry Bicket at the Barbican, 4 March 2015)

Six months into my Baroque voyage of discovery, it’ll soon be time to jump in at the deep end for the London Handel Festival. From fully-staged operas to concerts, solo recitals and pasticci, the next month will offer a veritable banquet of Handel in all his forms. Before the Festival proper gets underway, we had an aperitif to enjoy: something of an oddity.

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L’Oracolo in Messenia: Antonio Vivaldi (1737)

Marianne Beate Kielland

★★★★

(Europa Galante, directed by Fabio Biondi, at the Barbican, 20 February 2015)

In late 1737 the composer Antonio Vivaldi found himself in dire straits. He’d been planning to put on a series of operas in Ferrara for the Carnival, but all his plans had gone wrong when the religious authorities refused him permission to enter the city. (They took exception to the fact he was a priest who never performed Mass and was known to travel in the company of a female singer.) Faced with the prospect of losing an entire season’s income, Vivaldi pulled some strings and managed to get hold of the Teatro S Angelo in Venice. With less than a month to prepare, he needed to get together a programme.

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