MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Support us financially by purchasing from

Thomas ARNE (1710-1778)
Artaxerxes (1762)
Artaxerxes, Prince and afterwards King of Persia; friend to Arbaces, and in love with Semira – Christopher Ainslie (countertenor)
Artabanes, Generalissimo, and favourite of the Royal Family; father to Arbaces and Semira – Andrew Staples (tenor)
Arbaces, Friend of Artaxerxes, in love with Mandane – Caitlin Hulcup (mezzo-soprano)
Rimenes, A General of the Army, and confidant of Artabanes – Daniel Norman (tenor)
Mandane, Sister to Artaxerxes, in love with Arbaces – Elizabeth Watts (soprano)
Semira, Sister to Arbaces, in love with Artaxerxes – Rebecca Bottone (soprano)
The Mozartists/Ian Page
rec. Air Studios, London, UK, 18-21 November 2009 and 2 April 2010. The recording followed a production of Artaxerxes at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 2009, directed by Martin Duncan and designed by Johan Engels – Seen and Heard review. It was originally released in 2010 on Linn Records.
Libretto and liner notes by Ian Page enclosed.
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD672 [68:06 + 69:38]
Reviewed as downloaded with pdf booklet from (available in 16/44.1, 24/96 and 24/192 formats)

For the general music lover – at least outside Great Britain – Thomas Arne is known for Rule, Britannia as performed annually at The Last Night of the Proms and televised worldwide. This piece emanates from a masque, Alfred, from 1740, which together with a couple of other works established him as the leading English theatre composer of his time, and he also wrote songs for several Shakespeare plays. Soon, however, his popularity began to wane and it took almost twenty years before in the early 1760s he had three great successes, and the most appreciated work was Artaxerxes, which continued to be performed well into the 19 th century.

Unfortunately the original performing material was lost, presumably in the fire that destroyed the Covent Garden Theatre in 1808, and the material that was used at revivals in the 1813 was a foreshortened version made by Henry Bishop. Published in vocal score by John Addison, it included further settings by Bishop of recitatives and the final chorus. Fortunately Arne’s original score was published in 1762 but it excluded the recitatives and the finale. All this meant that when Ian Page was to produce Artaxerxes in 2009, he wrote new recitatives and commissioned Duncan Druce to write a new finale in the style of Arne.

Almost fifteen years earlier Hyperion (CDD22073, two CDs for the price of one – review) had issued a recording of the work with The Parley of Instruments, conducted by Roy Goodman, and for that production Peter Holman, the Music Director of The Parley, made his own performing version of Artaxerxes. In effect this means that today we have two different versions of the work, which of course invites comparisons. I have sampled the Hyperion without going into too much detail, but both are worthy efforts and it is indeed valuable to have this, seemingly the first English opera seria, in two editions.

The libretto was not new when Arne laid hold of it. It was written in 1729 by Pietro Metastasio, the most productive librettist of the 18th century – and possibly of all times – who constructed more than 800 librettos. Artaxerxes is also one of the most popular of his creations, being set by more than 90 composers, including Hasse and Gluck. But the first, for whom the libretto was written, was Leonardo Vinci (1696? – 1730) whose Artaserse, as the original title was, premiered in February 1730, only a few months before the composer’s death. His opera was recorded some years ago and it is a tremendous work that should be heard by all lovers of baroque operas (review).

Artaserse is the Persian king Artaxerxes I, son of Xerxes I (Serse). He ruled from 465 BC to 424 BC. The story is, as so often in baroque operas, rather complicated: Mandane, sister of Artaserse, is in love with Arbaces, son of King Serse’s general Artabanes. Serse is against this love and banishes Arbaces. When the two lovers secretly meet in the castle garden Artabanes appears, carrying a bloody sword. He admits to Arbaces that he has killed Serse for his ill treatment of Arbaces and also because he wants Arbaces to become king. Then the two exchange swords. Now Artaserse arrives and Artabanes tells him about the murder and accuses Dario, Artaserse’s older brother, of the deed. Artaserse orders Artabanes to kill Dario. A little later Artaserse admits that he loves Semira, Arbaces’s sister.

The murder of Dario is announced and Rimenes, a general who supports Artabanes and also is in love with Semira, brings in Arbaces, in chains, and announces that a bloody sword had been found among Arbaces’s possessions. Arbaces is condemned to death but Artaserse doubts that he is guilty and releases him so he can get away.

In the temple Artaserse swears that he will uphold law and order in his kingdom. To affirm this he is about to drink from a sacred goblet, not knowing that Artabanes has poisoned the drink. Before he has time to drink, Rimenes and his soldiers approach the castle. The attack is averted when Arbaces kills Rimenes. Now Artaserse hands the goblet to Arbaces so he can prove his innocence by drinking from it. In this situation Artabanes, to save the life of his son, admits that he has poisoned the drink and also that he murdered Serse. Artabanes is captured and led away, but Artaserse, in love with Semira, condemns him, not to death but to exile. In the concluding chorus everybody hails Artaserse: Justice becomes beautiful when accompanied by mercy. Happy end to this bloody story!

To this story, translated into English, probably by the composer himself, Thomas Arne composed a melodious and colourful score, encompassing a both lively and solemn overture and 29 musical numbers, connected with recitatives in accordance with the traditional opera seria formula. Of the musical numbers there are two duettinos, one at the beginning and one near the end, and a final chorus, sung by the five survivors (Rimenes was killed by Arbaces as you may remember). The rest are arias, or airs as they are denoted, but there are no dacapo arias as in Handel’s and Vinci’s operas.

The recitatives are, with a few exceptions, secco recitatives. Considering the violent tidings, the music in general is fairly undramatic, rather idyllic, and easy on the ear. Artaxerxes’ Fair Semira, lovely maid (CD 1 tr. 11) is noble and beautiful and so is his short air at the beginning of Act II, In infancy, our hopes and fears (CD 1 tr. 25). Arbaces’s By that belov’d embrace (CD 2 tr. 4) is also beautiful and so is his prison aria (or arietta) opening act III: Why is death for ever late (CD 2 tr. 10).

One of the most beautiful utterances in the work is Mandane’s Let not rage your bosom firing (CD 2 tr. 20). In sharp contrast is her The soldier, tir’d of war’s alarms (CD 2 tr. 26), which is the most dramatic piece in the opera. It is also the best-known number from Artaxerxes, famously recorded by Joan Sutherland on her The Art of the Prima Donna (Decca 4783071, download or vinyl – review review – of earlier reissue, or Alto ALC1125, budget price CD – review), first issued in 1960. Returning to it just to check whether my memory had hoaxed me, I found that her magisterial power, beauty of tone and steadiness was exactly as I remembered it, and her consonants as muddled as before, but the disappointment was the bloodless accompaniment, and the tempo felt heavy-footed.

Neither Elizabeth Watts on Page’s recording nor Catherine Bott on Goodman’s can quite challenge Sutherland for monumentality, excellent as they both are, but the life and freshness, both in the singing at slightly swifter tempos and the orchestral playing, incisive and with rhythmic élan, are far superior as a totality.

Which brings me to the performance at large. The orchestral playing on period instruments at A=430Hz is superlative, and with lively tempos the story unfolds at a comfortable pace. The arias are mostly short and the recitatives are, as so often, a liability. It takes a Handel in top shape to make something musically convincing of the recitatives. The soloists are also excellent and my only complaint, if it even is a complaint, is that the two sopranos are rather similar in timbre and difficult to tell from each other. But all have well-schooled voices; they articulate well and there are no wobblers. The fact that they went into the studio after a series of live performances surely contributes to the sense of presence. The singers were their characters.

This is a wholly recommendable recording of a milestone work in the history of English opera. The only alternative, the Goodman recording on Hyperion, should be a valuable companion on your shelves, slightly different but also with singing and playing of the highest order. But I also urge readers to try Leonardo Vinci’s setting of the same libretto. It was a revelation when it came out eight years ago (Erato 9029511825, 3 CDs, budget price: Recording of the Month review – or 6028692, download, or 2564632323, DVD), and has so remained.

Göran Forsling

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing