~ HWV 42 ~

Virgin Veritas 5 45550 2
3 CCDs*
full price
Recorded in 2002.
Released in 2003.

Deidamia: Simone Kermes
Ulisse: Anna Bonitatibus
Achille: Anna Maria Panzarella
Nerea: Dominique Labelle
Fenice: Furio Zanasi
Licomede: Antonio Abete

Coro del Complesso Barocco
Il Complesso Barocco (on period instruments)
Conductor: Alan Curtis

(Recorded in the Teatro dei Rozzi, Siena, Italy.)



* (CCD=Copy Controlled Disc, which means there is a technology to prevent copy but the discs are supposed to be compatible with CD audio players, DVD players, PC and Apple computers. Unfortunately, those discs sometimes do not play, or at least not properly, on some CD players or computers.)

After Rudolph Palmer’s recording on Albany Records, here is the second recording of Handel's last Italian opera Deidamia. First of all, this production is different from its predecessor from a musicological point of view: Alan Curtis has used the new edition by Terence Best published in 2002 by the Hallische Händel-Ausgabe. Concerning the libretto, the Italian text printed in the booklet is the original one published for the 1741 performances, presented in the edition prepared by Lorenzo Bianconi and his team for a series of books called I libretti italiani di Georg Friedrich Händel e le loro fonti (i.e. ‘The Italian librettos of G. F. Handel and their sources’ – the Deidamia text is from Volume 3 which has not yet been published). In the booklet Alan Curtis clearly explains his choices (some very small cuts, the addition of a hunting call, etc.), and thus shows that this recording is the realization of a rigorous approach.

Such an approach is definitely not enough to guarantee a good recording on its own, but Curtis’s Deidamia is a demonstration that rigour is compatible with a high artistic standard and the production of a very good “commercial” product. Deidamia is definitely a score able to charm every listener. Maybe it is not endowed with the same immediate charms as works like Giulio Cesare, Rodelinda or Alcina, but an attentive listening reveals a score which is superb from the beginning to the end, energetic, moving and much well balanced than several more famous Handel operas. Deidamia and her father Licomede are particularly moving characters: the old and lucid king Licomede is probably one of the most sympathetically-drawn bass characters in all Handel’s operas, and in the arioso without orchestra of Deidamia’s appearance (“Due bell’alme innamorate”, Act I scene 2), the line and colour of the cello immediately takes part in a distinct sadness which permeates Deidamia’s part.

In fact, almost everybody in this apparently quite light-toned story seems to be conscious of Achille’s tragic destiny except him. Rather than this quite happy-go-lucky teenager, the other particularly interesting and substantial character is the famous Ulisse, an ambiguous chap whose craftiness ensures the success of his mission. In his great aria “Perdere il bene amato” (“To lose possession of the beloved”, Act I scene 5), the librettist and the composer are not only justifying the Trojan War – the quest to reclaim Helen – but also seem to refer to the fate of Odysseus and Penelope with a languorous and declamatory A section and a vividly contrasted B section full of fury.

Although there was a probable lack of facilities for a sophisticated staging of Handel’s own performances of Deidamia, the work includes spectacular events like the arrival of the Greeks on a boat at the beginning of the opera, with a march partly played from the boat. The hunting scene in Act II features Handel’s imaginative interweaving of solos within a full chorus.

Not only is this opera a particularly interesting and beautiful one, but this is an excellent recording. Most of all, the soloists provide great singing and express all the richness and profundity of the characters in both recitatives and arias. People who have already heard Simone Kermes, particularly in concert, know what a dramatic personality she has. On this recording she surprises me, not solely by being perfectly at ease with the more tragic side of Deidamia’s fate, but also by her capacity to lighten her voice and singing to put herself in the shoes of the gentle and resigned princess (for example, the marvellous aria “Quando accenderan quell petto” in Act I). Kermes’s contribution is a great performance, with notably excellent da capos. Dominique Labelle and Anna Maria Panzarella are hardly less excellent.

A strange deception occurs with Licomede and Fenice. Both Antonio Abete and Furio Zanasi are excellent singers, but their da capos are almost devoid of ornaments and variations. Being smaller parts, was it optional in their contracts? This is a strange negligence in a recording of such a high standard. Last but definitely not least, Anna Bonitatibus is ideal as Ulisse: already noticed as an excellent Irene in Tamerlano under Trevor Pinnock, Bonitatibus has a beautiful voice, and is a fine interpreter, virtuoso singer and involved actress. Her swiftness and declamatory strength in the extraordinary “No, quella beltà non amo” (“That beauty I love not” Act II scene 9) is simply an amazing demonstration of baroque bel canto.

We could just be happy about this overdue rehabilitation of Handel’s last proper opera, yet this is also one of Alan Curtis’s best recordings. His conducting is really dramatic and efficient though slightly dry: there is more poetry in the music’s potential than is always evident in his conducting, and sometimes the performance lacks deeper contrasts even though all the individual tempi are fair. Il Complesso Barocco sounds much more substantial here than it does on the smaller-strength recent release La Maga abbandonata (on DHM). Overall, this is certainly one of the best Handel opera recordings to have been released in recent years.

© Philippe Gelinaud - July 2003

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