Arianna in Creta
~ HWV 32 ~

MD&G Records MDG 609 1375-2
3 CDs
full price
Recorded in 2005.
Released in 2006.

Arianna: Mata Katsuli, soprano
Teseo: Mary-Ellen Nesi, mezzo-soprano
Carilda: Irini Karayanni, mezzo-soprano
Tauride: Marita Paparizou, mezzo-soprano
Alceste: Theodora Baka, mezzo-soprano
Minos / Il Sonno: Petros Magoulas, bass

Orchestra of Patras (on period instruments)
Conductor: George Petrou





Probably because of its position in the chronology of Handel’s operas (just after Orlando, and shortly before Alcina and Ariodante), Arianna in Creta has been neglected. In the past few years, there was a concert tour in 2002 of Les Talens Lyriques under Christophe Rousset and a fantastic cast that included Sandrine Piau, Ann-Liese Sollied, Ann Hallenberg, and Kristinna Hammarström: the opera was beautifully performed in several places in Germany and France. There was a rumour about the possibility of a CD release of one of those performances broadcast by radio, or even a studio recording but, unfortunately, nothing happened. Thus Arianna in Creta appears in its first commercial recording under George Petrou – who has already recorded the world première of the pasticcio Oreste. The Göttingen Handel Festival made a recording of the opera in 1999 that is available to members of the Göttingen Handel Society.

At the end of the 1732-1733 season, Handel was not discouraged by the departure of most of his singers, including the famous alto castrato Senesino, for whom Handel had recently composed the title-role in Orlando. Most defected to join the so-called Opera of the Nobility and its music director Nicola Porpora. At least the soprano Anna Strada del Pò remained faithful to Handel – she sang Arianna – and Handel recruited some fine new singers. The new leading male singer was (low) soprano castrato Giovanni Carestini, who sings Teseo and who would later sing Ariodante and Ruggiero. Teseo was Carestini’s first role in a new Handel opera, and in fact what the composer creates for Carestini is a virtuoso part in which the usual hedonism of Handelian vocalità contains glances towards the Neapolitan style (the style that was so much appreciated by the continental audience and practiced by many of his rivals). You can experience it in the shape of some melodies and a trend to sometimes use more repeated notes in the accompaniments, although never to the dominant extent that a composer like Leonardo Vinci would have done. There are many highlights in this score. For example, the fast runs in Teseo’s aria ‘Nel pugnar col mostro infido’, the famous and beautiful slow aria with cello obbligato ‘Son qual stanco pellgrino’, or the egocentric Tauride’s exhilarating aria ‘Mirami, altero in volto’ (composed for Margherita Durastanti, back in Handel’s troup ten years after Giulio Cesare in Egitto). Maybe Handel wasn’t a revolutionary, but he did like to experiment with different things in his works during the 1730s. Arianna in Creta was probably a very fine success for him.

With this recording, we again appreciate the integrity and efficiency of the Greek conductor George Petrou. He uses quite a small continuo group, and prefers singers to perform da capos which favour divisions and variations and cadenzas in what we might describes as a reasonable style. There could sometimes be more exuberance, but Petrou’s choices are consistently stylistically accurate. The results produced by this performance of a very fine and rare work are totally convincing. It is a pity that the excellent orchestra (albeit with some problems with the horns) is not always shown off to advantage by the sound recording.

The cast is globally very satisfying. The singers are never overwhelmed by the virtuoso difficulties of the score, although some might regret the excessive tensions in the two sopranos’ singing (Arianna and Alceste). Concerning Mata Katsuli, those tensions were already noticeable in the Oreste recording. The voices are full of character and the three mezzo-sopranos offer very nice performances, particularly Marita Paparizou and Mary-Ellen Nesi. The latter performs the role of Teseo, a part that does not suit every singer of this type; Nesi overcomes the clever tricks in the fastest sections and is no less interesting in the more elegiac pieces.

An increased knowledge of this work enlightens and enriches our understanding of Handel’s operas during the early 1730s, and so this enjoyable recording of this fine work should be a very nice discovery for many music lovers.

© Philippe Gelinaud - July 2006

Return to the G. F. Handel Home Page