- HWV 27 -

3 CDs
Recorded in 2001.
Released in 2001.

Partenope: Meredith Hall, soprano
Kai Wessel, countertenor
Annette Markert, mezzo-soprano
Christopher Josey, countertenor
John McVeigh, tenor
William Berger (bass)

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (on period instruments)
Conductor: Nicholas McGegan

-Only available to members of the Göttinger Händel-Gesellschaft


First performed in February 1730, Partenope is the second opera Handel composed for the “second” academy. The title character Partenope is the mythological founder and first queen of Naples. She is loved by three suitors, among whom is Arsace, who is already engaged to Rosmira. Rosmira arrives disguised as a man (‘Eurimene’) and makes Arsace promise not to reveal her identity. Thus the story is about love affairs and based on provocations from Rosmira to Arsace and the dilemmas of both Partenope and Arsace. The tone of Partenope is very light and offers more comical situations than most other Handel operas. This anti-heroic opera is a special work which belongs to a particularly versatile - perhaps even experimental - period of creativity in Handel’s career.

This live recording was made at the 2001 Göttingen Festival, so the stage and audience noises are quite intrusive - enough to make complete listening quite painful. But more importantly the performance is really disappointing. The interpretation definitely respects the style of the music and all the singers are particularly involved in their characters - which is an advantage of the live recording. However, the singing is sometimes particularly weak. Meredith Hall is a Partenope with a tensed voice. The fast runs are not accurate and the high notes almost systematically made “thanks” to throats tightening. I think we can assume that when Handel writes high notes he writes them for a singer who can sing them without such efforts. Both countertenors - Kai Wessel and Chris Josey - seem to have problems in preventing the sound going backward in the throat, and thus create problems of accuracy. Wessel has some (albeit few) nice moments that imply he might have done much better: he is surprisingly at ease in the “Furibondo spira il vento” at the end of act II. Rosmira’s part sometimes seems too low for Annette Markert, but both her singing and interpretation are of a very good standard and she is perhaps the most satisfying member of the cast. Tenor John McVeigh is a vigorous and efficient Emilio, and William Berger deserves no reproach in his one and only aria. Nicholas McGegan and his Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra offer nice colors and an accurate accompaniment but it could have been less neutral and more dramatically engaged. Tempi are often quite slow and uniform.

Such productions should be encouraged, yet this recording is not recommendable to listeners other than those looking for a souvenir of the staged performances. Whether or not the singers are uneasy because of the staging, this noisy recording offers little to those who did not attend the performances (I belong to this category) and the general audiophile will probably find it unacceptable. René Jacobs was not satisfying as Arsace in Kuijken’s 1979 recording of Partenope, but this ‘old’ one remains generally preferable to the new one available to members of the Göttinger Händel-Gesellschaft. Sadly Partenope is definitely still waiting for a good and well balanced recording.

© Philippe Gelinaud - January 2002

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