Poro, re dell'Indie
~ HWV 28 ~

Recorded live in 2006.
Released in 2006.

Poro: William Towers, countertenor
Cleofide: Jutta Böhnert, soprano
Erissena: Franziska Gottwald, alto
Gandarte: Andrew Radley, countertenor
Alessandro: Thomas Piffka, tenor
Timagene: Torben Jürgens, bass

Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin (on period instruments)
Conductor: Konrad Junghänel

Available from The Göttingen Händel Society (3 CDs)
(Recorded at the 2006 Göttingen Handel Festival.)

- Only available for purchase by members of the Society.

Much has been said and written about Handel and Metastasio, and the composer’s supposed lack of interest in the librettos of the famous Roman poet. The fact is that Handel generally used adaptations of much older librettos which perhaps represented a bigger space of liberty for its work and conception of drama. Though Handel set to music only three librettos by Metastasio (Siroe, Poro and Ezio), we can hardly doubt he knew and recognised the qualities of their dramaturgy. Two of the three were successful and all of them gave him opportunity to write beautiful music. Furthermore, we should keep in mind that Handel used four other librettos by Metastasio for pasticcios (Catone, Semiramide, Arbace and Didone abbandonata) and that his interest was quite early as Metastasio wrote his first opera librettos only in the mid 1720s. Before Handel set Siroe, re di Persia to music in 1728, it had only been set by Leonardo Vinci (1726), Nicola Porpora (1727), Domenico Sarrò (1727) and Antonio Vivaldi (1727), and Siroe was only Metastasio’s second drama per musica

First performed on February 1731, Poro re dell’Indie is based on the libretto Alessandro nell’Indie, Metastasio’s sixth drama per musica. It was first set to music in Rome by Vinci in 1729 (with Carestini as Poro), and then by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi in 1730. Hasse’s and Porpora’s settings were both created in 1731. The original libretto was dedicated to ‘Giacomo III re della Gran Bretagna’ (i.e. James (III) Stuart, the ‘old pretender’), a dedication which was probably not known to Handel’s audience! Alessandro nell’Indie was one of the most successful librettos by Metastasio and was set to music – and adapted – more than sixty times during the eighteenth century. One of the changes concerns the title which can be the original Alessandro (Vinci, Pergolesi among others) or Poro (Handel, Porpora) or Cleofide (Hasse). The name of the character used in the title is not necessarily a sign of who is the main character. In opera seria – and Metastasian – dramaturgy there is almost always a main couple of lovers, the primo uomo and the prima donna, who are here definitely Poro and Cleofide. Other usual figures are a second couple (often of lovers too; here they are Erissena and Gandarte), a bad guy (Timagene) and a particular one, the king. This character can take different forms. His particular situation – not belonging to one of the couples though he can be in love with a member of them – results in several possible uses for him: sometimes as a less vital secondary character, often an essential associate character with a vital function in the story, and sometimes as a more prominent figure, as with Alessandro in Poro. Such a character is often but not always an old one, more or less a good one. Here the figure of the king is fulfilled by Alessandro (the historical figure of the Macedonian king Alexander the great), who is definitely young, heroic, fair and good. The choice of the title can just be a way to pay homage to the dedicatee (James III Stuart associated with Alexander the great) or could be a way to satisfy the ego of the main singer (in Handel’s case, Poro was sung by Senesino). 

There are very few recordings of this opera: Hans Margraf recorded it in the early 1960s, in German and with parts transposed (published on CD on Berlin Classics); more recently, Fabio Biondi recorded Poro in the mid 1990’s for Opus 111, with globally a very good cast, stronger than Junghänel’s, but with much less rigour in his approach to the score. This new semi-commercial recording from the Göttingen festival is once more particularly welcome as it could be the most satisfying recording yet. It is basically the February 1731 version with the addition of a scene from the November 1731 revival to give a better balance to the whole and more consistency to the part of Timagene, slightly neglected before because of a singer which seemed of limited capacities (in November 1731, the role of Timagene was expanded for Antonio Montagnana). 

The achievement of this recording is mainly how it is very well balanced. The Akademie für Alte Musik is always excellent, and Konrad Junghänel’s conducting can suffer very few reproaches (perhaps only an infrequent lack of finesse). There is nothing exceptional from the singers but almost all of them offer good or very good performances; some weaknesses you can hear at the beginning tend to disappear during the evening. Style, emotion and commitment are never neglected. The most problematic performance is due to the tenor (as before with Biondi’s version). Although Thomas Piffka makes many efforts not to scream, his singing is quite average, lacks legato, and his Italian is sometimes quite approximate. Jutta Böhnert is a nice Cleofide, and though William Towers sometimes tries too hard with his highest notes, he shows really interesting potential.

© Philippe Gelinaud - April 2007

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