~ HWV 12a ~ "first version" -- in contrast to McGegan's earlier Harmonia mundi recording of HWV 12b, "second version"

Virgin Classics 5-45673-2
3 CDs
full price
Recorded in 2003.
Released in 2005.

Radamisto: Joyce Di Donato, soprano
Zenobia: Maite Beaumont, mezzo-soprano
Polissena: Patrizia Ciofi, soprano
Fraarte: Dominique Labelle, soprano
Tigrane: Laura Cherici, soprano
Tiridate: Zachary Stains, tenor
Farasmane: Carlo Lepore, bass

Il Complesso Barocco (on period instruments)
Conductor: Alan Curtis



(Recorded in Siena, Italy.)

During 1720 Handel prepared two different versions of Radamisto. His first opera composed for the first season of the Royal Academy of Music was produced in April 1720, with the title-part sung by the low soprano Margherita Durastanti (this first version is catalogued as HWV 12a). But the following December, Handel prepared a new version (HWV 12b) for his new cast, including many changes made so that the title-part could be by the alto castrato Senesino. Perhaps Senesino’s involvement is the main reason why the second setting gets more attention and was recorded by Nicholas McGegan (Harmonia Mundi, 1994). HWV 12a, in comparison, has not been given much of a chance. At the beginning of the 1960’s H.T. Margraf recorded HWV 12a (this was reissued by Berlin Classics on CD in 1998), but it was sung in German and with several parts transposed -- not really HWV 12a at all. Thus Alan Curtis’ new recording can be considered as a genuine premiere.

The libretto, probably adapted by N. F. Haym, is originally by Domenico Lalli and inspired from L’Amour tyrannique by Georges de Scudéry. In his excellent booklet essay, Antony Hicks underslines that this setting of Radamisto is probably the first real opera seria composed by Handel for London. King Tiridate of Armenia wages war against Thrace because he lusts after Zenobia, wife of Radamisto. Radamisto is the son of Farasmane, King of Thrace. The gallant heroic plot is full of tangles and enables the expression of many contrasting affetti.

This new recording is very welcome, not least because the interpreters are often very satisfying. The American harpsichordist and conductor Alan Curtis seems to be too placid in order to offer the touch of madness that this repertoire needs to be totally accomplished, and which the audience needs to be completely carried off by it. Nevertheless, Il Complesso Barocco sound less tiny than in some other recordings. There is no big weakness in the cast although several voices sounded quite tired, and some more differentiated timbres could have been desirable. Patrizia Ciofi seems to have retrieved a standard of singing that enables the actress to express herself and for the musician to be listened to with pleasure. Dominique Labelle gives a very nice performance – although maybe her voice is too flavoured for the young lover Fraarte. Zachary Stains does his best as the villain Tiridate, but the finest performances are definitely those by the two excellent mezzo-sopranos Maite Beaumont and Joyce DiDonato: the control and expressiveness of their voices both offer interpretations of great density. They are definitely the consistent elements that give pleasure during this recording.

© Philippe Gelinaud - January 2006

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