- HWV 42 -

Albany Records TROY 460
3 CDs
full price
Recorded in September 2000.
Released in 2001.

Première recording

Deidamia: Julianne Baird
Brenda Harris
John Cheek
Achille: D’Anna Fortunato
Maire O’Brien
Peter Castaldi

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




This new première recording of Handel's last opera Deidamia, under Rudolph Palmer, is released by Albany Records (previous volumes in this series have appeared on the Vox and Newport Classics labels). Composed at the end of 1740, after 35 years of experience in the opera house, Deidamia is a valuable example of Handel's generally unfamiliar late operatic style.

The tone of Deidamia is quite light, and the heroic spectacle of the Royal Academy of Music operas seems a world away. The story is set during the Trojan war. Young Achille has been sent to hide from the war at the court of King Lycomede, and is currently disguised as a woman and in love with the King's daughter Deidamia. The cunning Ulisse is sent to find him, and succeeds in his mission when an apparently modest maiden brandishes a sword with notable mastery. The humour and light hearted heroism of the story is offset by Deidamia's inconsolable lament "M'hai resa infelice" - she knows of the prophecy that foretells Achille's death at Troy.

The mood is mainly pastoral and the libretto offers variations on love, restlessness, jealousy, opportunism and grief. The result is one of Handel's most charming opera scores, full of wit and love of life. Yet the audience is constantly aware of the future tragedy these events will create. The cast is vocally average but all the singers are quite involved in their characters. In the title role Julianne Baird is not without charm, although she no longer completes ornaments and cadenzas with such ease. Brenda Harris is an honourable Ulisse, quite agile and with a competent trill. Unfortunately, D’Anna Fortunato’s dry voice and tense singing is not what we can expect to personify a young hero like Achille. As with most of the previous releases in this series, the Brewer Chamber Orchestra provides an efficient yet  underpowered accompaniment. Handel's scoring cries out for dramatic contrast, and the continuo is particularly weak. Deidamia definitely deserves to be heard, and even if this typically cut and patchy John Ostendorf production is not of a very high standard, it is an adequate tool for discovering and appreciating the work.

© Philippe Gelinaud - September 2001

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