We have had ‘Bad Guys’ discs before – DG issued
one with Bryn Terfel some time ago – but I believe this one wins hands
down. I mean for the most frightening cover picture. The idea is splendid.
Baroque operas – and other operas as well – are crowded with bad guys.
Here Xavier Sabata has picked half a dozen of the worst specimens. The
most evil of these is Polinesso in Ariodante
. At least he is
represented by three arias, whereas the rest of the crooks have been
vouchsafed only two each and poor Tamerlano manages only one. One would
think that a collection like this would be hard-hitting and violent
all the time but there are softer, more inward feelings expressed as
well. At the end of the programme one feels that the various characters
have wandered through a lot of various emotions.
It is Tamerlano who opens the recital with a virile aria, where he wishes to bring peace to a haughty spirit, ‘so that she may soften her anger, her fury. When I have sweetened her sorrow I will loosen the chain that hatred has seared into her heart’. This doesn’t sound too evil but later in the opera he shows his real ego: he wants power! Polinesso in Ariodante
is a more clear-cut bandit and Handel has provided him with excellently revealing solos. As I have said on many occasions, I am so astounded every time that he is so inventive and inspired in every situation. Maybe the most wicked of the bunch is King Egeo, father of the title character in the early opera Teseo.
Written in 1713 it was early but was still the composer’s eighth opera. Voglio strage
(tr. 3) from act IV - this is Handel’s only opera in five acts - is really furious and performed at break-neck speed.
No one hearing Dardano’s Pena tiranna
(tr. 4) from Amadigi di Gaula
could believe that this sensitive and beautiful aria could emanate from the mouth of a baddie. It has a close likeness to Lascia ch'io pianga
and the text says, in the English translation provided in the booklet: ‘I feel in my heart a cruel pain, with no hope of finding compassion; Love destroys me, and my sorrow allows me no peace in my misery’. Even a baddie has human feelings, in particular when he has just been dumped by the woman he loves.
Tolomeo, brother of Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare
, murdered Pompey and now he wants to marry Pompey’s widow Cornelia. For this reason he sings Belle dèe di questo core
(tr. 6) to win her hand: ‘Fair goddesses of this heart, the heavens are reflected in your face.’ That’s all he says and that’s why it is a short aria, less than two minutes. Later though, when he rejoices in the fact that he now has Cleopatra in his power, he is explosively dramatic and triumphant: Domerò la tua fierezza
What about Adalberto in Ottone
? Ottone is the King of Germany and Adalberto’s aim is to overthrow him and usurp the throne – and win Ottone’s betrothed. Thus he sings two of the most beautiful arias Handel ever wrote, a fawning wolf in sheep’s clothing (trs. 7-8).
I became totally engrossed in the repertoire, in admiration for Handel inexhaustible cornucopia of inspiration, and in the performances. The orchestra - founded in 2012 - plays magnificently: springy and powerful. Xavier Sabata’s counter-tenor is deeper in tone than most of the singers in this repertoire today, and a very appropriate match for these ‘bad guys’. The tone, the timbre, is decidedly ‘male’. Strong-voiced and evil-sounding – listen to Egeo’s aria Voglio stragi, e voglio morte
(tr. 3) – he sounds the way he looks on the CD cover. Then he sings Adalberto’s arias (trs. 7-8) so beautifully, so warmly.
Handel arias are not under-represented in the CD catalogues but most of these twelve are rarely heard out of context. This disc should be an ideal addition to all Handelians’ collections.