Still another Handel gem
Yannick Deschamps | 09/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What's going on right now with all those Handel operas is most exciting. All those long-neglected works are at last getting their due, with brilliant and sensitive interpretations. This is particularly true of this rendering of Deidamia. The conducting is good, with appropriate tempi; the singers are great, especially Simone Kermes, who has got the right type of voice for Handel, ie, neither "white", nor with too much vibrato in it. And the music itself is extremely colourful and varied, with each aria reflecting the particular mood of the character most exquisitely, as always with Handel."
If you think Handel operas are dull...
Michael F. McMahon | Antioch Illinois USA | 08/28/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Absolutely beautiful-and a marvelous vocal cast. Gorgeous recording of this last opera by the Maestro. Very lush and melodious. A winner!"
Achilles in Petticoats
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 06/16/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Set at the beginning of the Trojan War, Handel's last Italian opera is replete with stirring marches amd martial flourishes. The boy Achille has been sent in hiding to the realm of his father's friend, King Licomede, on the island of Skyros, in order to elude a prophecy that his fate is to die at the walls of Troy. Achille has been disguised in girl's clothing, but his nature reveals itself in a love of hunting. Licomede's daughter, Deidamia, has penetrated the disguise; she and Achille are secret lovers, though her loyal friend Nerea, also a princess, is in on the secret. Grecian ambassadors - Fenice and Ulisse, feigning the identity of Antiloco the son of Nestor - come to Skyros to request armed support from Licomede and to locate Achille. Licomede strives to deceive them while also asserting his Grecian patriotism. The wily Ulisse feigns to profess love for Deidamia. His ruse succeeds, Achille is discovered and proves ardent for combat even at the risk of death. Meanwhile, Fenice has fallen sincerely in love with Nerea. Deidamia is distraught that her boy-toy Achille plans to desert her for manly glory, but Ulisse persuades her that `one night of bliss', combined with immortal fame, isn't such a bad deal. Her father agrees, the lovers have their farewell fling, and the opera ends with the awareness that the Greeks will sail with the morning tide. Oh, and there's a `moral' to the story, sung by the whole cast in chorus:
Lovers, use this hour, this day;
what's to come may prove all pain;
pleasures hasten swift away,
yet return not back again.
Does the fair one prove unkind,
if she leave thee,
never grieve thee,
shift about, and change thy mind.
That English doggerel comes from a translation program of 1741! Frankly, the tortured Italian libretto isn't any better. This is not one of the literary masterworks of the Baroque opera, and Handel may have recognized as much, since most of the recitativos are musically run-of-the-mill, with only bare continuo and none of the lovely instrumental accompaniment of the opera Arminio and others.
Deidamia was not a success for Handel. It was staged only twice and probably lost money. The usual explanation is that the public of London had become more puritanical, jaded with the imported virtuosity of Handel's Italian castrati, and/or uncomfortable with the decadence of the whole opera business. Handel's business future lay with the English-language oratorios on Biblical themes. The truth may be a little less neat. England was in the prolonged throes of a revulsion against the homoerotic tolerance of the early 18th C. Male brothels had been closed, prominent `Arcadians' had been persecuted, and Handel may have been ducking for cover. I wonder, perhaps, whether even the epicene patrons of Handel's earlier operas were prepared to appreciate the casting of the mighty Achilles and the doughty Ulysses as twittering sopranos of either gender. In the second staging of Deidamia, by the way, Achille was sung by a 14-year-old girl.
There's good reason for naming this opera after its heroine. Most of the most memorable arias are assigned to Deidamia, sung superlatively on this recording by soprano Simone Kermes. This is a case where my five-star rating pertains more to the performance than to the distinction of the music. Alan Curtis and his Complesso Barocco instrumentalists coax musical excitement out of a score that is well composed, of course, but mostly predictable. Soprano Dominique Labelle has splendid moments as Nerea, and mezzo Anna Bonitatibus is implausibly lovely as Ulisse. The duet between Kermes and Bonitatibus, just before the final chorus, is the most original and delightful musical moment of the whole opera. Baritones Furio Zanasi and Antonio Abete sing their roles as Fenice and Licomede with total artistry, but their arias are musically routine. Still, even `routine' Handel is hot stuff, and I suspect that this opera, on stage, could be quite a spectacle. Alan Curtis plainly believes in it, and his intense appreciation of Handel's operas has been instrumental in the rediscovery thereof.
This recording has been re-released by Virgin Classics in a box of six operas, all performed beautifully by Il Complesso Barocco. The six operas in the box are:
RODRIGO - 2 CDs recorded in 1999, with Gloria Banditelli, Sandrine Piau, Roberta Invernizzi
RADAMISTO - 3 CDs 2005, with Zachary Stains, Dominique Labelle, Joyce DiDonato
ADMETO - 3 CDs 1978, with René Jacobs, James Bowman, Max von Egmond
FERNANDO - 2 CDs 2007, with Lawrence Zazzo, Max Cencic, Antonio Abete
ARMINIO - 2 CDs 2001, with Vivica Genoux, Dominique Labelle, Riccardo Ristori
DEIDAMIA - 3 CDs 2003, with Simone Kermes, Anna Bonitatibus, Furio Zanassi
Librettos in Italian and English, synopses, and ample notes are included on a CD-rom."