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George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1739)
Floridante (1720/21) [163.42]
Floridante – Marijana Mijanovic (mezzo)
Oronte – Vito Priante (bass)
Elmira – Joyce DiDonato (mezzo)
Rossane – Sharon Rostorf-Zamir (soprano)
Timante – Roberta Invernizzi (mezzo)
Coralbo – Ricardo Novaro (bass)
Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
rec. Chiesa di San Silvestroa, Tuscania, nr. Viterbo, September 2005
ARKIV 00289 477 6566 [3 CDs: 58.28 + 50.21 + 54.53]


Generally speaking, when Handel revised operas it was usually for the worse; such revisions being reactions to changes in cast or circumstances. This means that the catalogue of Handel’s Italian operas is not a happy hunting ground for groups who wish to explore variants and original versions. But in some cases, there are interesting variants to explore. Alan Curtis and his group Il Complesso Barocco seem to be doing just that. Not only have they just recorded Fernando, Re di Castiglia (a reconstruction of the original version of Sosarme) but we have this recording of Floridante which attempts to return the opera to something like Handel’s intended form. 

Floridante was written for the 1721 season of the Royal Academy of Music. This was not an entirely happy period for Handel as he was in competition with Bononcini, whose shorter, lighter style of aria was popular with the public. But Handel would recover; 1723 saw the composition of Giulio Cesare and 1724 that of Tamerlano. 

Floridante however was hampered even before it premiered. The opera’s leading lady was intended to be Margherita Durastantini, a singer with whom Handel had had strong associations since his period in Italy in 1708. But in October 1720, whilst Handel was in the process of composing the opera, she fell ill and could not be guaranteed to come to London the next spring. 

Instead of replacing Durastantini with another soprano, the directors of the Royal Academy decided to promote the seconda donna, contralto Anastasia Robinson. Her intended role of Rossane was then given to the Italian soprano Maddalena Salvai. 

Handel’s solution to this problem was to re-write two of Rossane’s arias and entirely replace a third, so that they suited Salvai. This substitution replaced a simple, emotionally charged aria, of a type at which Robinson excelled, with something rather more flirtatious and suitable for Salvai. 

Robinson’s voice was not only lower than Durastantini’s but of more limited compass. More problematically she was less agile and less secure in pitch. Where Durastantini could be relied upon to rise to the full heights of Handelian bravura, Robinson excelled at the slower, simpler, more emotional pieces. In fact, the sort of pieces that Bononcini was writing for her in his operas. But Handel’s conception of the proud Elmira required her to perform a number of arias which showed off his characteristic fire and thunder, so Handel ignored Robinson’s strengths and weaknesses and simply transposed the arias and adjusted, where necessary, their great range. This, perhaps, contributed to the works relative lack of success. 

When reviving the opera, Handel never returned to his original conception. So, Alan Curtis here presents a version of the opera with the role of Elmira returned to its original soprano pitch, but with Rossane left in its revised, apparently superior, soprano form. This means that Elmira’s arias in the second half of the opera (latter half of Act 2 and all of Act 3) have had to be transposed up, into the soprano range. The result is an interesting experiment. 

Durastanti was never a high soprano and as she got older her voice lowered. At the premiere of Giulio Cesare in 1723 she sang the role of Sesto. So Curtis has taken the interesting decision to cast mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in the soprano role of Elmira. But DiDonato has a high, bright mezzo-voice and sounds convincingly soprano-ish. Also, DiDonato is a superb musician and would be worth hearing whatever she sang. DiDonato is one of the brightest points in a very strong cast. Her delivery of Elmira’s arias is vivid and powerful, but she can also be simply and profoundly moving as in the beautiful duet with Floridante which closes Act 1. 

As her betrothed, Floridante, we have Marijana Mijanovic who is becoming something of a specialist in Handel trouser roles. Here she sings with a warm tone and is convincingly heroic where necessary. I must confess that there were occasions when I found her tone uneven when singing in the lower register. There were moments when I wondered whether the role was too low for her. But you must balance this with the fact that we hear her lovely delivery in Floridante’s more moving numbers. 

Elmira and Floridante are the heroic couple and they are contrasted with Rossane and Timiate, who form a lighter, more flirtatious couple. It is for Rossane and Timiate that Handel wrote his shorter song-like and dance-like arias.  Sharon Rostorf-Zamir as Rossane and Roberta Invernizzi as Timante make a well-balanced couple and they do not disappoint when compared to DiDonato and Mijanovic. Rossane and Timiate also get a duet in Act 2 which Rostorf-Zamir and Invernizzi deliver in beautifully. 

Vito Priante plays Oronte; this is the bass role, which means of course that Oronte must be a father and a king. Priante has a lovely grainy baritone voice and a delivery that made me wish that Handel had written more for him. He makes a very strong impression in his dramatic final aria. 

As Coralbo, Riccardo Novaro - also a bass - gets a single aria which he delivers admirably. 

This recording is possessed of a strong, well-balanced cast all of whom are singing in fine form. The performance is overall far stronger than Curtis’s other recent offering, Fernando. Curtis and his group Il Complesso Barocco are on good form, accompanying the singers in a lively, virtuoso fashion. 

There is of course, one thing that I have not mentioned – the plot. This is the usual complex mess of sex, violence, lust, betrayal, incest, jealousy, attempted poisoning and attempted suicide. We must try and appreciate it for the strong situations into which it projects the characters rather than looking for any subtleties of plot. 

For anyone wanting a fresh look at one of Handel’s stronger mid-period operas then you need look no further. Whilst neither the opera nor the recording are in the top flight, both have very much to recommend them.

Robert Hugill



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