La Resurrezione is one of the works Handel wrote during his
stay in Italy, from 1706 to 1710. He had travelled to Italy because
of his interest in Italian opera, but when he was in Rome he was
denied the opportunity to write opera. As opera performances were
forbidden by papal decree, lovers of the genre looked for alternatives.
These were found on the one hand in the chamber cantata and on
the other in the oratorio.
had been one of the main genres of vocal music in Italy since
the mid-17th century. It was Giacomo Carissimi who played
a crucial role in its establishment, but stylistically it
had undergone dramatic changes. Whereas the oratorios by Carissimi
and his immediate followers were written on Latin – mostly
biblical – texts. These were for performance in church and
had a moral objective. Towards the end of the 17th century
the oratorio developed into a vocal work which had more in
common with contemporary opera than with the oratorio of Carissimi's
time. The texts were in the vernacular, the subject was still
based on the Bible or on the lives of Saints, but much more
attention was paid to the portrayal of individual characters.
In the end, its main objective was to entertain audiences
and to give opera singers the opportunity to shine.
La Resurrezione was first performed, on Easter Sunday
1708, all roles were assigned to opera singers, among them
two castratos. Handel also made use of the soprano Margherita
Durastanti, who sang the role of Mary Magdalene. Under pressure
from the ecclesiastical authorities - who opposed to a woman
singing in a piece of sacred music - she had to be replaced
by further castrato for the next performance.
Roman patron, Marchese Francesco Maria Ruspoli became the
subject of papal wrath. It was in his palace that La Resurrezione
was performed, and it was through him that Handel was
given the libretto of the oratorio, written by Carlo Sigismondo
Capece. He was also responsible for making available to Handel
an unusually large orchestra, led by none other than the great
Arcangelo Corelli. It was an event Rome had never seen before
and it seems that the performances were a great success.
the present performance of La Resurrezione the orchestra
is considerably smaller than the one Handel had at his disposal:
seven violins (instead of 21), two violas (4), cello (5),
double bass (5), two trumpets (2) and two oboes (4), plus
bassoon, viola da gamba, flute and two recorders. Even if
one takes into account that the modern instruments used by
the Combattimento Consort Amsterdam produce a bigger sound
than their baroque counterparts, this means that some of the
impact of those first performances must be lacking here.
so I am generally pleased with the performance. Over the years
Jan Willem de Vriend has shown a great skill for exploiting
the dramatic aspects of the baroque repertoire, whether it
be vocal or purely instrumental music. He has a great feeling
for the rhetorical character and affects of the repertoire
he performs. This is reflected in the phrasing and articulation,
the differentiation between notes and the dynamic shading.
This recording is no exception. The result is a very theatrical
performance which brings the conflict between good and evil,
represented by the angel and Lucifer respectively, and the
emotions of the three human characters well to the fore.
far as the soloists are concerned, I am mostly impressed by
the contributions of María-Cristina Kiehr as Mary Magdalene
(Maddalena), who is torn apart between hope and fear. Ms Kiehr
explores this inner conflict well and brings much passion
and warmth to her role. Nancy Argenta's voice is much cooler,
and therefore is well-suited to the role of the angel (Angelo).
She is very communicative, announcing her news of Jesus' resurrection
to the audience and to her opponent, Lucifer. I would have
preferred it had she done so with a little less vibrato, though.
In loud passages her voice tends to get a bit shrill. Marijana
Mijanovic gives a good account of the role of Cleophas (Cleofe),
but I found it difficult to watch her perform because of her
highly exaggerated facial expressions. Klaus Mertens sings
beautifully as ever, but I find his performance a little too
soft and friendly. A bit more rudeness and malice wouldn’t
have gone amiss. In this respect David Thomas - in Christopher
Hogwood's recording on Decca - is still unsurpassed. The least
satisfying performance is that of St John (Giovanni). It is
in any event a role in which drama plays little part, and
Marcel Reijans, a seasoned opera singer, tries to make a bit
too much of it. He also has a problem with the tessitura of
his part, which could be the result of playing at modern concert
pitch. If a low pitch had been used – as period instrument
ensembles do – it would have been much less of a problem.
At the same time a lower pitch would have lent Lucifer's role
a bit more weight, and maybe Nancy Argenta would have been
more comfortable on the highest notes.
production consists of a DVD and two CDs. The latter contain
the audio track of the DVD. I assume anyone buying this set
will start by watching the DVD. As the performance was given
in a modern concert hall without much atmosphere, there isn't
a lot to see that is indispensable or really helps to understand
or to enjoy the music. It could even be the other way round,
as I indicated before: looking at the facial expressions of
the singers isn't always pleasant. In comparison little attention
is paid to the players, which is a shame. Not only do they
do a marvellous job, but also watching them play can be very
interesting. The DVD contains subtitles in English, German
and Dutch. I have watched the English subtitles, which are
can imagine most people turning to the CDs the next time they
want to listen to this performance. In that case they will
miss the translation: the booklet omits the lyrics or their
DVD has a documentary about the preparation of this project.
Jan Willem de Vriend visits two important spots: Handel's
birthplace, Halle, and the German city of Münster, where the
so-called Santini collection is preserved. This contains a
number of Handel's compositions, among them La Resurrezione.
He is accompanied by an elderly lady, who was the main sponsor
for this project and left her inheritance to the ensemble
when she died in 2005. Her contributions are well spent and
this documentary is a fitting tribute to an enthusiastic and
sum up: the recording by Christopher Hogwood mentioned above remains
my favourite recording of La Resurrezione. It has no real
weak spots and Hogwood's orchestra is of the size Handel had at
his disposal in 1708. The present recording is first and foremost
recommendable because of the dramatic reading of the orchestral
score and - as far as the vocal soloists are concerned - the contributions
of María-Cristina Kiehr.
Johan van Veen