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
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.