Ariodante has fared well on disc, and that’s not about
to change. Alan Curtis has gathered an estimable vocal team
without a weak link, harnessed them to his imaginative, lithe
band Il Complesso Barocco, rehearsed thoroughly albeit presumably
congenially, and then, still at the Villa San Ferma, Lonigo,
set down this three act masterpiece with great flair and imagination.
Too often, weaker Handel operas coast through their first Acts,
incrementally building tension but having already dissipated
energy too early to create a work that succeeds on every level.
With Ariodante one is pitched into the fray without excessive
delay. Arias and recitatives, and the ballet music that is so
integral a part of the work, all function toward its appointed
resolution. With crisp rhythms and resilient orchestral playing
to accompany and support them, the solo singers enjoy a perfect
platform. Karina Gauvin is Ginerva, and her focused, light,
agile, finely scaled voice proves once again estimable whether
solo or in ensemble. Polinesso is taken by Marie Nicole Lemieux
whose contralto provides the heavy guns, though as her Act I
aria Coperta la frode triumphantly demonstrates, this
is a singer whose voice and musical sensibilities are of the
highest order. Matthew Brook is the Scottish King and manages
the tough divisions of Voli colla sua tromba extremely
well. His is not a dark chocolately bass but it is focused and
stylistically very persuasive indeed. Bigger names have fared
much, much worse. He sings splendidly. Topi Lehtipuu is warmly
engaging as Lurcanio.
And now to the title role, which is taken by Joyce DiDonato.
Her initial appearance makes a lovely impression. She has the
voice, the shading, and the technique for the role, and immediately
establishes via her arioso Qui d’amor nel suo linguaggio,
that she has the personality for it too. She continues in this
vein too, proving that she is as fine a mezzo in this role as
any on disc. Naturally one’s reservations are personal but in
my case persistent. I find, in the context, that the B section
of Scherza infida, that recital favourite, is too elastic;
that the pause is too ostentatious and knowing – too stagey
in short. Also, surely her ornaments are too discursive here,
even more so on the return to the ‘A’, which lacks simplicity
and repose. The ornaments on long phrases are beautiful – consistently
so – but it’s the shorter ones that disconcert me. If you notice
the bassoon line, weirdly trilling along, you’ll be doing well.
The opening scene of Act III is intensely dramatic; the recitatives
are well paced and whilst DiDonato’s own trilling in Cieca
notte is only half successful, it’s of little real account.
Soprano Sabina Puértolas takes on the relatively small role
of Dalinda but there is nothing small about her voice, which
is excellently calibrated and theatrically impressive. Puértolas’s
martial divisions in Neghittosi, or voi che fate? are
fiercely etched. When we arrive at Dopo notte we find
that DiDonato has a full complement of panache and resplendent
tone for it; splendid all round. The two balancing duets for
Lurcanio and Dalinda, and then for Ariodante and Ginerva are
accomplished with great imagination, balance and tonal sensitivity.
So this highly successful account can now be considered a real
front-runner. Minkowski [457 271-2] has Sophie von Otter and
Lynne Dawson as well as the formidable, indeed paint-stripping,
Polish contralto Ewa Podles. None is demonstrably superior to
Curtis’s cast however and I prefer DiDonato to von Otter tonally.
McGegan [HMU 907146/8] had the great advantage of Lorraine Hunt
in the title role; I wouldn’t ever be without that great singer,
notwithstanding DiDonato’s excellence. Ivor Bolton’s cast included
Ann Murray, a stellar Handelian, but the other roles are not
quite so consistently cast, and I prefer the Curtis recording
on this account. Further back, of course, there is Janet Baker
with Raymond Leppard, whose LP box still graces my shelves.
Like Hunt, Baker’s tone is richer than DiDonato’s, and again
there’s no chance of my forsaking her interpretation.
But this new set has real advantages. The full ballet music
is here, the work is performed with stylish affection, the ensemble
is water-tight, the recording quality is outstanding, and the
title role is taken with great authority.