Arias for Guadagni
George Frideric HANDEL
(1685 - 1759)
O Lord, whose mercies numberless
(Saul) [5.28]
The raptur’d soul (Theodora) [8.19]
Yet, can I hear that dulcet lay (The Choice of Hercules) [4.06]
Destructive war (Belshazzar) [2.16]
Johann Adolf HASSE (1699 - 1783)
Ah che dissi!
(Didone abbandonata) [1.26]
Se resto sul lido (Didone abbandonata) [5.35]
Odi cola la frigia tromba? (Didone abbandonata) [0.26]
A trionfar mi chiama (Didone abbandonata) [6.36]
John Christopher SMITH (1712 - 1795)
Say, lovely Dream!
(The Fairies) [5.42]
Thomas ARNE (1710 - 1778)
Vengeance, O come inspire me!
(Alfred) [6.52]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714 - 1788)
Orchester-sinfonie in D major [10.18]
Christoph Willibald, Ritter von GLUCK (1714 - 1787)
Ah! non turbi il mio riposo
(Telemaco) [3.40]
The Dance of the Blessed Spirits (Orfeo ed Euridice) [2.18]
Che puro ciel! (Orfeo ed Euridice) [5.50]
Ahime! Dove trascorsi? (Orfeo ed Euridice) [1.14]
Che faro senza Euridice? (Orfeo ed Euridice) [3.48]
Gaetano GUADAGNI (1728 - 1792)
Pensea a serbarmi, o cara
Iestyn Davies (counter-tenor)
Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen
rec. St Silas the Martyr, London, 10-12 August 2011
HYPERION CDA67924 [78.03]
The majority of the castrati with whom Handel worked were well known stars. Gaetano Guadagni (1728 - 1792) was different; he arrived in London in 1748 with a comic-opera troupe which went bankrupt. He was introduced to Charles Burney who in turn introduced him to Handel. Handel wrote a number of roles for Guadagni and adapted others for his use. At this stage of his career, Handel was used to training his own singers and he seems to have done the same; Guadagni worked for longer with Handel than any other composer.
Guadagni was well read and had a fine library of theoretical treatises. He had a small voice which responded to the changes in style which were happening. Refinement and taste were replacing virtuoso bravura performance. So Guadagni had the right sort of voice, but was also an opportunist. This led, ultimately, to his journey from Handel to Gluck’s Orfeo.
Counter-tenor, Iestyn Davies, and Arcangelo directed by Jonathan Cohen, here explore the music from roles written for Guadagni. The first half of the disc is devoted to his seven years in Britain, with arias by Handel, Hasse, John Christopher Smith and Arne.
O Lord, whose mercies numberless from Saul showcases Guadagni’s skill at legato singing, here beautifully realised by Davies. He sings the second verse with a lovely sense of line and imaginatively ornament. Yet, can I hear that dulcet lay from The Choice of Hercules is similarly focused and Davies produces some alluringly sweet tone. The raptur’d soul from Theodora and Destructive war from Belshazzar pushed Guadagni closer to its limits, though Davies demonstrates that they lie easily within his. Destructive war with its trumpets and drums is very martial, and Davies produces some fine bravura singing. 

In 1753 the Dauphine Maria Josepha invited him to take part in performances of Hasse’s Didone abbandonata in Versailles. Guadagni’s performances attracted great approbation and he returned to Paris the following year to sing in the Concert Spirituel.
Guadagni was admired in both arias and recitative and Davies includes both the accompagnato Ah che dissi which precedes the aria Se resto sui lido, and the recitative Odi cola la frigia tromba preceding the aria A trionfar mi chiama. Hasse’s opera was premiered in Versailles in 1750, Hasse being invited because Dauphine Maria Josepha was originally from Saxony where Hasse was based at the Saxon court.
In style, Hasse’s music approaches the galant style. Se resto sul lido is fascinating; Hasse alternates faster running passages, neatly sung by Davies, with slower reflective phrases to reflect Aenee’s confusion, between leaving and staying. In A trionfar mi chiama we have martial horns and a very toe-tapping tune.
After his Handelian roles, Guadagni continued to work with other British composers. Say, Lovely Dream comes from John Christopher Smith’s The Fairies performed in 1755. Smith was Handel’s last secretary, but also had his own career as a composer. The Fairies was based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is a nicely lyrical, sub-Handelian piece. But the performance had an important place in Guadagni’s career as it led to his meeting with Garrick and, according to Charles Burney, to acting lessons with the great actor. However it happened, Guadagni developed into a highly admired operatic actor.
Vengeance, O come inspire me from Arne’s Alfred is rather better known than the Smith. It has a highly arresting opening and a rather catchy tune.  

Before the group of Gluck arias, the ensemble play an instrumental interlude perhaps reflecting the fact that, as a result of his move to Lisbon being stopped by the 1755 earthquake, Guadagni took time off to reflect and restructure his technique and career.
Performing a variety of roles on the continent, from the traditional to the avant-garde, Guadagni was talent-spotted and invited to join the team being built in Vienna around Gluck and Calzabigi. The first role that Gluck wrote for Guadagni was Orfeo. It was tailored to his voice, the lyrical simplicity, the intimate refinement. In Calzabigi’s view, in any other hands the role would have been disaster. Davies sings the items from Orfeo ed Euridice, with beautifully moulded phrases and sweet tone. There is a hint that perhaps the lower end of the range does not entirely sit comfortably, but it is a relatively small point in the context of such fine performances.
After Orfeo ed Euridice Guadagni sang in one more Gluck opera, Telemaco, this time not quite as much a reform opera as Orfeo but still very striking. Something went wrong and Guadagni never sang for Gluck again. What he did do, though, was to consolidate his association with the role of Orfeo, continuing to sing Gluck’s setting as well as those of other composers. He composed replacement arias for Gluck’s opera and also a replacement aria for a performance of Ezio (in a setting by Guglielmi or Bertoni). This latter aria is the last item on the disc, Guadagni writing for himself to sing. The aria is rather more ornamented than Gluck’s writing for Guadagni, but without ever being virtuosic.
Davies’ performances here are spot-on, poised and beautifully modulated with a fine sense of line. He is well supported by Arcangelo under Cohen, who give a nicely dramatic performance of C.P.E. Bach’s symphony. When you read descriptions of some castrato voices, the choice of a counter-tenor to sing castrato roles seems a bit limited, but here Davies seems to match very well what we know of Guadagni’s voice and technique.
This is a finely performed recital, but what puts it in the remarkable category is the fascinating and illuminating programme. Here is a disc which sheds light on a remarkable performer, someone associated with an iconic role.  

Robert Hugill 

Finely performed and a fascinating and illuminating programme.