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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Georg Friedrich HAENDEL (1685-1759)
Ariodante

Ann Murray
Joan Rodgers
Gwynne Howell
Christopher Robson
Lesley Garret
Paul Nilon
Mark le Brocq
English National Opera Orchestra and Chorus - Ivor Bolton
(Note: this opera is sung in English - the original was in Italian.)
Rec: 1996, London Coliseum.
Sound format: PCM stereo
Subtitle languages: D, F, NL
Picture format: 16:9
Region code: 2, 5
Picture standard: PAL
ARTHAUS 100 064 [178 min.]


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Handelís Ariodante is one of his later operas, composed in 1735. It was his first work to follow the "French ballet style". With the French ballerina Marie Sallé, he reworked some old scores and added "ballet" sections to new ones to incorporate dance sections in his operas. Each of the three acts of Ariodante concludes with a ballet section. This is one of Handelís finest operas, and shines through its excellent arias and beautiful instrumental sections.

I find it difficult to accept Ann Murray in the lead role. While I am used to hearing male roles sing with high voices, which was standard in Handelís time, I find it far more jarring to see them sung by women (though hearing them on disc is much less of a shock than seeing them in recordings or on stage). Murray is wooden and confused on stage, her eyes often looking off into the distance in the proverbial deer-in-the-headlights expression. While her voice is good - in spite of a bit too much vibrato - her dramatic presence is not. She is overshadowed by Ginerva when the two are on stage together, though she (he) should have much more presence.

Nevertheless, Murray has some fine moments, among them the long, emotional aria Take your pleasure in the second act, when, alone on stage, Murray gives a fine plaintive performance. This is, indeed, on of the great Handel arias, and both the music and singing here are good, though, again, Murray uses a bit too much vibrato an effect at odds with the slow, pulsing rhythm.

Joan Rodgers as Ginerva is seductive and portrays true emotion, in addition to having a fine voice. She can change from seduction to anger very easily, and has excellent bearing and poise. Her aria at the end of the second act, The pain and grief I suffer, is brilliantly sung, and her dramatic performance is very good as well.

However, Christopher Robson as Polinesso is not well matched to the role. Perhaps his voice is miked strangely. In his aria When cunning is shrouded, it sounds as though the miking is bad, but this only reinforces the poor sound and uneven tone of his voice, which is made to sound more like that of an amateur than an opera singer on the stage. He seems to make such a muddle of the aria Since deception can prove, in the second act, that I was tempted to skip over it.

The staging is attractive and interesting, and does not go to any of the excesses that often plague baroque operas, though many of the scenes are dark, giving an oppressive atmosphere. The ballet sections are attractive and tasteful, though the actual dancing is somewhat limited; it is more like a few people moving around on stage. I donít know what Handelís original intentions were, but the people on stage seem a bit frozen.

Musically, this recording has its ups and downs, with some excellent singers and some that are perhaps better forgotten. Dramatically, one of the problems is the prevalent darkness, obscuring the visual element. But, all in all, it is a fine recording, and one any Handel fan should own.

Kirk McElhearn

 


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