Mr Richard Fitzsimmons | Scotland | 08/04/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Sigiswald Kuijken's 1979 recording of Partenope (re-issued on CD in 1990) is the only version currently available on general commercial release of this classic Handelian opera. There is one other recording by McGegan available, but only to members of the Goettingen Handel Society, so far.
Whilst Handel opera recordings have concentrated on the `big 6' - Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano, Rodelinda, Ariodante, Alcina and Serse - operas such as Partenope bear serious comparison with these acknowledged classics of opera seria. It has proved very popular on the stage in both Germany and USA, and it is high time that a more up-to-date production was recorded.
That is not to say that the present set is in any way `bad' or `useless'. Whilst the singers are full engaged in their parts, and La Petite Bande under Kuijken more than holds its own with more modern `authentic' orchestras, it has to be said that countertenors have come a long way since Rene Jacobs and John York-Skinner created the roles of Arsace and Armindo in the late 1970s. They, along with luminaries such as James Bowman, Paul Esswood and Charles Brett did much to introduce the idea of countertenors in the operatic roles that we take for granted these days, but the power, flexibility and intonation of this voice has developed considerably in the intervening decades.
Christina Laki as Partenope and Helga Molinari as Rosmira more than hold their own with current 18th century soprano specialists, whilst Martyn Hill (Emilio) and Stephen Varcoe (Ormonte) perhaps lack the flexibility and depth of tome we expect from our basses and tenors in these operas. One thinks here of John Mark Ainsley and Antonio Abete for example.
This is perhaps a harsh summary of what is still a very stylish and valuable historical venture. It was among the best recordings of its time and deserves a wider knowledge. One hopes that DHM will deign to release it once more so that the wonders of this opera can be enjoyed by a new generation of Handel lovers. That said, it is presently still available in Europe - try amazon.de
Landmark Recording of Handel Delight Holds Up Well
Nicholas A. Deutsch | New York, NY USA | 08/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Like the early 'Agrippina'(1709) & the late 'Serse'(1739), Handel's 'Partenope'(1730) has a distinct flavor of ironic comedy (it's been compared to Shakespearean comedies like 'Twelfth Night'). Handel composed a fine score that moves sure-footedly between serious passion & a lighter (though never farcical) view of the foibles of human beings in love. In this, he was helped greatly by the libretto (after Silvio Stampiglia), one of the best he ever set. Although until recently not all that well known - for one thing, it had to wait for a decent edition, as Chrysander's 19th century one was uncharacteristically flawed - 'Partenope' has gained steadily in popularity; it certainly deserves to rank among Handel's most appealing Italian operas.
This 1979 recording, one of the first complete recordings of a Handel opera on 'original instruments,' holds up very well - in fact it's a delight. The backbone of the performance is the excellent playing of La Petite Bande under Sigiswald Kuijken's direction. He shapes each number impeccably, and it's good to hear a sizeable ensemble - basically 25 strong, including 4 each of oboes and bassoons - play the score. The cast may tend towards lighter voices than the recent (2005) Chandos recording of the piece [see below], but this works well for a piece that is more intimate than heroic, and they are without exception shrewdly matched to their roles. Soprano Krisztina Laki, with her clear tone, is a buoyant Partenope, and alto Helga Mueller Molinari is a feisty, resolute presence as the jilted Rosmira. Counter-tenor Rene Jacobs's singing is a mixed bag: fast numbers are sung stylishly, but he's apt to indulge in swoopy-swoony attacks in slower ones, which tends to make Arsace (the jilter) come across as even more wimpy than necessary. The remaining all-British trio of singers also register positively, with tenor Martyn Hill (Emilio) notable for incisive text delivery. Above all, there's a fine ensemble feel to the recording. You may want to consider going to amazon.de to order it.
Its sole competitor, the new Chandos version, is well-conducted by Christian Curnyn - though to my ears Kuijken still has the edge - and the orchestra of his Early Opera Company play well; the small size of the band (16 in the core group) is somewhat mitigated by Chandos's characteristically close, reverberant miking. There's certainly a touch more sheer vocal glamor in the cast, with Rosemary Joshua (Partenope) and Lawrence Zazzo (Arsace) both outstanding. On the other hand, the lengthy recitatives don't always feel as if the singers have had quite enough time to dig into the dramatic possibilities, especially for humor; here Hilary Summers's (Rosmira) dark alto doesn't always seem as responsive as it might. Overall, I'd say Kuijken and Co. hold their own; I'd recommend listening to some excerpts from each version (again, amazon.de has sound clips of the Kuijken) before choosing.