~ HWV 26 ~

DHM/BMG 82876 58797-2
2 CDs
full price
Recorded in 2004.
Released in 2004.

Lotario: Hilary Summers, mezzo-soprano
Adelaide: Simone Kermes, soprano
Matilde: Sara Mingardo, contralto
Idelberto: Sonia Prina, mezzo-soprano
Berengario: Steve Davislim, tenor
Clodomiro: Vito Priante, bass

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



In his performer’s note to the present recording, conductor Alan Curtis condescends to “sympathize” with “purists [who] will argue that it is best to have the complete opera”, while venturing that “in many cases, some people will feel that the shortening has helped maintain the dramatic tension”. One doesn’t need to be a purist to spot the feeble side in such an argument. Unlike a live performance, both a score and a recording of a musical work should be considered as documents of the composer’s output for a certain project, be it an opera, a symphony, a quartet... They obviously have to be complete, and as near as possible to the composer’s ultimate will, but this is only a minimum requisite. Real purists may demand that they include also alternative and/or discarded versions... Either by skipping a few pages or pressing the <next>/ <forward> etc. buttons on a CD player, anybody can maintain the dramatic tension and carve his/her own path within the unabridged musical text; certainly a less passive experience than being superimposed a director’s vision of what is relevant or not. However, if the director is a sensitive one and the visual doesn’t spoil or contradict the listening experience, I don’t object to cuts in live opera – provided they make sense musically. Once again, Curtis’ choices to that regard sound rather whimsical: “Therefore we have had to restrict ourselves to only the A section of certain arias. I tried to choose examples where the B section did not add anything of striking interest […]”. Any freshman in musicology courses could remind maestro Curtis that the da-capo aria is a closed form, a living body. What if the same concept found application in, say, a Beethoven Allegro? The “tame”and “uninteresting” second theme in the opening movement of the Fourth Piano Concerto might well be cut out for the sake of saving precious recording time (and maintaining the dramatic tension, of course). The alternative, at least in principle, is not unknown to Curtis: “[…] some may even feel, as does the prestigious Halle Handel Festival, that it is better to cut entire arias than to ever cut a Da capo”. Which seems quite reasonable, since festivals deal primarily with live performances, and each of their CDs is only a by-product thereof – i.e., the document of one actual staging, not the output of an unstaged performance for the recording studio. I hope the difference is clear enough.

That said, there is nothing particularly objectionable in this Lotario, though heavily abridged both in the recitatives and in a score or so arias. The harpsichord continuo is placed very prominently, much brilliant and energetic, if a bit foursquare, throughout. The string players are often much more subtle and shaded; sometimes maybe even too subtle, or are there just too few of them? The brief movements with horns and trumpets are generally thrilling as they should be. In the title-role, Sara Mingardo deploys her bronzy polished voice stretching down to tenor-like notes without apparent effort, while not squeaking in the highest range like most countertenors do. Her “Non disperi peregrino”, at the end of Act II, conveys the thrill of a baroque nocturne with impassionate restraint and much enticing sweetness. Simone Kermes as Adelaide is, as usual, more astounding than moving. Despite a slightly artificial Italian diction, her coloratura is fiery and gets the best out of such “disdainful” arias as "Scherza in mar la navicella" or “Non sempre invendicata”, while her cadenzas are often extreme and dangerously close to collapse – but it feels spontaneous and matches the character well. Next to the primadonnas, Steve Davislim and Sonia Prina show the best stylistic competence; the former’s villanous role, Berengario, is outlined with particular accuracy.

The rival recording under Paul Goodwin was made live during a short concert tour that included a performance at Halle. It produced enough material of adequate quality to fill one disc of so-called highlights, but one can only speculate whether a complete recording would have presented an adequate performance. Ironically, it seems certain that BMG prevented Alan Curtis from recording the complete opera because Oehms Classics had promised the world that they were going to do it first, while having exclusive use of the new HHA edition. If that be true, both BMG and HHA should now feel very silly about themselves.

© Carlo Vitali - January 2005

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