~HWV 41~

Vox Music Group CDX 5135
2 CDs
budget price
(Recorded: circa 1986 /
Released: 1991)*

Imeneo: John Ostendorf
Julianne Baird
D'Anna Fortunato
Beverly Hoch
Jan Opalach

Brewer Chamber Chorus
Brewer Chamber Orchestra (on period instruments)
Conductor: Rudolph Palmer




Imeneo, Handel’s penultimate Italian opera, was composed in 1738 and eventually first performed at the end of 1740. It was announced in the London Daily Post as an “Operetta”, and only received two performances. It was adapted into a “Serenata” called Hymen for Dublin in 1742. The tone is quite light, its plot is all about love, hope, despair, jealousy, and without much action: Rosmene was captured by pirates, her lover Tirinto wants to rescue her, but Imeneo has already helped her to escape. As a reward, Imeneo asks Argenio (Rosmene’s father) to marry her. Thus, Rosmene has to face the dilemma of having to choose between fidelity to her lover Tirinto or gratitude to her rescuer Imeneo. Tortured by her hesitations, Rosmene pretends to lose her mind and finally chooses Imeneo. The final chorus glorifies duty and reason. It could be argued that Imeneo is the most difficult of Handel’s opera librettos for a modern audiences to digest. But the score has many interesting things to offer.

Unusually, the title role is assigned to the bass voice, originally written for William Savage, formerly a boy treble who sang Oberto in Alcina five years earlier. There are four fine choruses, and the secondary soprano role Clomiri that Handel originally composed for “Miss Edwards” has some very nice high soprano arias. A highlight is the beautiful trio in which the two suitors try to persuade her to choose each of them, and this links to a chorus that closes Act II. Although Imeneo was a failure, Handel seems to have believed in the quality of his composition and borrowed a lot of music in later works (for example, Imeneo’s aria “Di cieca notte” became “The people that walked in darkness” in Messiah).

Whilst there is nothing exceptional in this interpretation, it is never boring and there are some nice moments from almost all the soloists. It is worth noting that contrary to almost all her other contributions to John Ostendorf’s productions, D’Anna Fortunato’s voice suits the role of  Tirinto quite well. Julianne Baird has some problems with accuracy, charm, agility. This recording could be a nice way to discover this opera, even if it is entirely unsatisfying from a musicological point of view (Chrysander made a total mess of Imeneo, and Ostendorf manages to make it even worse). We are used to extensive cuts in Ostendorf’s productions but in this one there is something yet more extraordinary: Ostendorf himself sings Imeneo, and his concept of the title role includes three arias (one of them from the 1742 Dublin version) who should be sung by other characters with different registers.

* Now only available as part of the Brilliant Classics boxed set Handel: The Masterworks.

© Philippe Gelinaud - April 2002

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