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George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Amadigi di Gaula (1715) [158:16]
Amadigi: Maria Riccarda Wesseling (mezzo); Oriana: Elena de la Merced (soprano); Melissa; Orgando: Sharon Rostorf-Zamir (soprano); Dardano: Jordi Domènech (counter-tenor).
Al Ayre Español/Eduardo López Banzo
rec. Auditori Palau de Congressos de Girona, Spain, July, November 2006
NAÏVE AMBROISIE AM133 [79:57 + 78:19]
Experience Classicsonline

The recent resurgence in Handel’s popularity as an opera composer has brought back to life many of his masterpieces presumed dead. Amadigi was the fifth opera that Handel wrote for London and the last of his period of experimentation. As a German, living in England, writing in Italian, Handel was free to invent a non-existent operatic tradition. With works like Rinaldo, Teseo and Amadigi he does just that. Amadigi has already had a very successful recording on Erato with Mark Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre. While this new Naïve recording doesn’t quite eclipse that 1991 version, it certainly gives it a run for its money.
The plot, like most opera seria is implausible and revolves around lots of magic and mistaken identity. It takes place in the domain of the sorceress Melissa (soprano), and deals with her frustrated love for the hero Amadigi (mezzo-soprano). He remains true to his beloved Oriana (soprano), in spite of the machinations of his rival Dardano (counter-tenor). In the end the gods intervene, the evil are punished and all ends happily.
The performance throughout is very good indeed. I had never come across Al Ayre Español before: they were founded, by Banzo, in 1988 to revive the neglected Spanish Baroque repertoire . They have broadened out their repertory to encompass much of the European Baroque. Their crisp ensemble is perfectly suited to an intimate chamber work like this. They have a fantastic attack for the purely orchestral moments: the Overture and final Ballo are exhilarating, as are the Sinfonias in the middle of Acts 1 and 3. Furthermore they provide more than just a simple accompaniment to the arias: sample their contribution to the first aria (CD1, Track 4). As Dardano plans his deception his dissembling coloratura is accompanied by some pristine passage work from unison strings. There are some cracking effects later on, such as when Dardano is accompanied by a bagpipe-like drone (CD2, Track 13) or when recorders are introduced at the beginning of Act 2. The chief credit on this set goes to the instrumentalists, and to Banzo for controlling the direction of the music so admirably.
The quartet of soloists is very strong, though they are all high voices so there isn’t a lot of variety in the texture. Furthermore there are only two duets in the whole piece with a “chorus” to finish with: otherwise it’s arias all the way. Each of them is required to show off a whole range of vocal display to fit with the huge gamut of emotions they undergo. Highlights include a collection of heroic arias (try CD2, track 22 for instance) and some beautiful laments (try the last track on CD 1). All of the soloists are strong, with not a note out of place and a good deal of characterful acting too: all four are pretty well contrasted.
In all honesty, if you don’t like Handel opera then this set isn’t going to change your mind, and it doesn’t reach the heights of inspiration met in later masterpieces like Rodelinda or Alcina. If you’re happy to give it a go, though, you certainly won’t be disappointed because the performance is very strong. The booklet note describes the opera as “a musical map of the emotions” and, while the plot won’t win any dramatic awards, you could do lot worse than surrendering yourself to the journey it charts.
Simon Thompson


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