Venceslao: George Frideric Handel and Friends (1731)

Renaissance Polish Costume

★★★½

(26 April 2019, Opera Settecento, St George’s Hanover Square; London Handel Festival)

It’s rare for a Baroque opera to look beyond the ancient world for its subject and rarer still for a librettist to look at Central and Eastern Europe; but Opera Settecento are brilliant at unearthing unusual pieces for us. This opera is (apparently) inspired by the life of Wenceslas II of Bohemia and Poland, though when I say ‘inspired’, I mean of course that opera and history bear no relation to one another. We can’t even blame Metastasio for this, because the libretto was written by Apostolo Zeno (I like to think that Metastasio would at least have tried to get some historical accuracy). Zeno’s tale is an identikit Baroque story of love, lust and power and, if I’m going to be perfectly honest, it never quite hangs together. Part of that is due to the plot, on which more shortly; but it’s exacerbated by the fact this is a pasticcio. Handel probably didn’t write anything except the recitatives: the rest was cobbled together from other composers – arias from other versions of Venceslao or from completely different operas – as a quick fix to keep audiences happy while he worked on his next original piece. On the bright side, there’s an awful lot of Leonardo Vinci here, which makes me very happy.

Continue reading

Ormisda: George Frideric Handel and Friends (1730)

Ormisda - Maria Ostroukhova

★★★★

(Opera Settecento at St George’s, Hanover Square, 28 March 2017)

I’m running slightly behind on London Handel Festival reports, but didn’t want to forget this remarkable Orsmida, dominated by an absolutely brilliant performance from the talented mezzo Maria Ostroukhova. Like Catone and Elpidia in previous Festivals, Ormisda is a pasticcio, pulled together by Handel using arias from other composers’ operas. Not only did this enable him to fill one of the slots in the 1730 opera season, easing his workload a little, but it also introduced London audiences to some top arias from the Continent. Ormisda pulls together some very enjoyable music by Hasse, Orlandini, Vinci, Leo and Giacomelli, to tell a classic opera seria tale of dynastic politics in ancient Persia.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Catone in Utica: Leonardo Vinci (1728)

Vinci: Catone in Utica

(Opéra Royal, Versailles, 19 June 2015)

★★★

Versailles. The very name conjures up opulence and the Opéra Royal, nestled within the palace, is no exception. It’s a jewel-box of gold and crystal, festooned with chandeliers. Simply walking into our loge took my breath away, and I was glad of it. I’d waited for this night for nine months, having impulsively booked tickets three days after I first watched Artaserse. It was an expensive leap of faith. Now, tucked into the velvet-lined corner of our box with a superb view of the stage and orchestra pit (conveniently close to those fabulous horns), I was about to find out if the wait had been worthwhile.

Continue reading

Catone in Utica: Leonardo Vinci (1728)

Piranesi: The Via Appia

★★★★½

(Il Pomo d’Oro, directed by Riccardo Minasi)

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the CD is here. I meant to wait until Versailles before posting about Catone, but I’ve changed my mind and will write separately about the recording and the performance. There are two main reasons for that. First, Valer Sabadus announced last week that he won’t be singing either at the Opera Royal or Wiesbaden: illness prevents his rehearsing. Of course I’ll miss him, but his replacement is Ray Chenez, who sounds rather exciting on the basis of YouTube clips. I’m always happy to discover a new voice.

Continue reading

Artaserse: Leonardo Vinci (1730)

Vinci: Artaserse

★★★★★

(with I Barocchisti [CD] and Concerto Köln [DVD], directed by Diego Fasolis, 2012)

Before we start, I should emphasise: the composer is not the artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), but a completely different person, the Neapolitan Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730). I must also add a disclaimer. As you may remember, I know nothing about the technicalities of music. In this field I am, more than ever, merely an enthusiastic amateur. That’s especially the case in Baroque music, which must be one of the most technically complex and elaborate areas of classical music. However, as I’ve said before, I’m fascinated by the phenomenon of the castrati and, as such, this particular opera (and performance) was one I couldn’t resist.

Continue reading