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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Alessandro Severo
(1737) [157.17]
Niccolo MANZARO (1795-1872)
Don Crepuscolo
(1815) [29.29]
Giulia Mammea – Kristina Hammarström (mezzo)
Alessandro – Mary Ellen Nesi (mezzo)
Salustia – Marita Solberg (soprano)
Albina – Irini Karaianni (mezzo)
Claudia –Gemma Bertagnolli (soprano)
Marziano – Petrols Magoulas (bass)
Don Crepuscolo – Christophoros Stamboglis (bass)
Armonia Atenea/George Petrou
rec. 20-26 July 2010, Recording Centre of Megaron, Athens Concert Hall, Greece. DDD. Libretti provided (Italian and English).
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM SCENE MDG 609 1674-2 [3CDs: 78.38 + 78.52 + 28.29]

Experience Classicsonline

Now that Handel’s operas are in general available on CD, companies are turning to his pasticcios. Handel’s self-pasticcios, where he created a new opera from material from his existing operas, are undergoing something of an operatic renaissance. We have recently had a new recording of Oreste and now George Petrou has added Alessandro Severo. The opera was produced for Handel’s 1738 season, which took place after his serious health scare in 1737. The season included the premieres of Faramondo and Serse as well as Alessandro Severo. For this opera, Handel selected 19 numbers from Arminio, Giustino and Berenice, all three of which had been produced in the previous season but which Handel would never revive. The remaining 11 numbers came from operas written between 1720 and 1726. Handel wrote the recitatives from new, added a new overture and an accompanied recitative.

The libretto was originally written by Apostolo Zeno, one of Metastasio’s most influential predecessors. Handel’s only other setting of a libretto by Zeno was Faramondo. Alessandro Severo was originally written for Venice where it was set by Lotti and premiered during the 1716-17 season. Handel seems to have been fond of early 18th century Venetian operas and often returned to this source for his libretti.

Zeno’s plot involves the Roman Emperor, Alessandro Severo and the clash between his mother Giulia Mammaea and his new bride Salustia. Salustia’s father, Marziano is also involved in the complex plotting: attempted poisonings, divorce, reducing Salustia to the rank of servant and so on. As if this wasn’t enough, another pair of lovers, Albina and Claudia are also undergoing travails. The opera is short by Handelian standards, with the entire piece fitting onto 2 CDs.

Handel’s original cast included the soprano castrato Cafarelli (the first Serse) as Alessandro Severo, La Francesina (the first Semele) as Salustia and Antonia Merighi (the first Rosmira in Partenope) as Giulia and the great bass Montagnana as Marziano.

The late Anthony Hicks prepared a performing edition for performances at the London Handel Festival in 1997 and it is this edition which George Petrou has used for this disc. Because the opera is relatively short, the balance between the arias for different characters is closer than in the longer operas. Alessandro receives five arias and a duet, Salustia four arias and a duet, Giula two arias, a duet and an accompagnato, Albina has five arias with Claudia and Marziano receiving three each. The surprise here is Albina who seems to develop into a major character, despite being part of the sub-plot.

Mary Ellen Nesi makes a fine Alessandro. Handel reduced the virtuosity of some of the arias - Cafarelli was patently not the equal of Carestini for whom the originals had been written - but nonetheless Nesi gets to sing some pretty brilliant things, including the fine Salda quercia in erta balza. With Marita Solberg as a charming Salustia.

Kristina Hammarström makes good work of Giulia’s material, with a vivid entrance aria Lo sdegno del mio cor with further dramatics in other arias. Perhaps she could have sounded a little more scheming in the recitative however. Irini Karaianni impresses in Albina’s demanding sequence of arias, you don’t feel the character is very necessary but Karaianni certainly makes you listen to her. She has a nice mezzo voice with a bit of vibrato, but used intelligently. As Claudio, Gemma Bertagnolli displays a vibrant lyric coloratura voice which reminded me somewhat of Roberta Peters.

Petros Magoulas has a lovely focussed grainy bass voice in the Montagnana role. None of his three arias has quite the dramatics that Handel wrote for the singer in other places, but Magoulas impresses nonetheless.

The standard of musicality on the disc is impressive, with all the virtuoso passages being more than capably taken. Petrou has managed to put together a cast who are remarkably well balanced, quite an achievement. The singing is of a uniformly high order.

As an appendix, the group gives the opera Don Crespuscolo by Niccolo Manzaro, a Corfu aristocrat - his real name was Nikolaus Halikopoulos Mantzaros. He is the composer of the music used for the Greek National Anthem. He trained locally in Corfu and Don Crespuscolo was premiered in 1815 at the San Giacomo theatre in Corfu.

Don Crespuscolo is a one-act comic opera, with just a single singing role though the libretto implies that other characters appear silently. The piece concerns that operatic standard, the search for a wife by an elderly man, here sung by Christophoros Stamboglis. Musically the piece owes something to Mozart and quite a bit to Rossini. The result is charming and effective, never outstaying its welcome. I am not sure I would be keen on a full three-act opera by Manzaro, but this short one-acter is quite a delight. Quite why it should be accompanying an opera by Handel written 78 years before, I am not sure.

The booklet includes articles about both operas, plus texts in Italian and English. As usual with pasticcios, the booklet fails fully to identify the sources for the individual arias, which is frustrating.

Though you may have never heard of either of these operas, the standard of performance under George Petrou’s direction, makes them worthy of notice. Handel’s pasticcio functions well as a dramatic entity and as an omnium gatherum of his music, plus the performances are terrific.

Robert Hugill








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