~ HWV A11 ~

MD&G 609 1273-2
2 CDs
full price
Recorded in 2004.
Released in 2004.

Oreste: Mary-Ellen Nesi
Ermione: Maria Mitsopoulou
Ifigenia: Mata Katsouli
Pilade: Antonis Koronaios
Toante: Petros Magoulas
Filotete: Nikos Spanos

Camerata Stuttgart (on modern instruments)
Director, harpsichord: George Petrou



With the recent release of Lotario, all of Handel's 'original' Italian operas now have a commercial or semi-commercial recording. This is the first complete recording of a Handel pasticcio. Pasticcios were operas essentially made out of previously composed music, and this was very common in Handel’s time. The most evident reason for such a practice is that it saved time, but the pasticcio has several other functions. It is a good occasion for the audience to listen to music it already knows and appreciates – and for the composer to exploit in a different way the dramatic potential of his music – or to listen to interesting music it doesn’t know yet. Pasticcios used music that was first performed many years earlier, or in other places, or by other composers. To produce a pasticcio was a convenient way for Handel to make his audience wait for a complete new opera and to introduce new singers. Oreste is a pasticcio composed by Handel with music from its own former works. It was first performed on 18th December 1734, after a revised version of Il Pastor fido (HWV 8c, and further extended by the prologue Terpsichore), and before the two new Handel operas of the season, Ariodante and Alcina. It has been first performed by Giovanni Carestini (Oreste), Anna Maria Strada del Pò (Ermione), Maria Caterina Negri (Filotete), Cecilia Young (Ifigenia), John Beard (Pilade), and Gustavus Waltz (Toante), with ballets at the end of each act.

The story is about Oreste, who is tortured by the Furies for his past bad deeds, and wants to sacrifice himself to the goddess Diana. His long-lost sister Ifigenia, who doesn’t recognize him, wants to protect him, and enlists the help of Filotete (a captain in Toante’s army), who is in love with her. Filotete arrests Pilade and Ermione, who are condemned to death because they are foreigners, but Toante (king of Tauride) falls in love with with Ermione. The following drama is the usual efficient succession of arrests, escapes, threats and recognitions leading to the lieto fine – with the villain, Toante, being killed during a fight. The score uses arias, arranged to varying extents, from Agrippina (‘Pensieri voi mi tormentate’, perfectly placed there to open the first act), Radamisto, Rodrigo, Floridande, Ottone, Tamerlano, Riccardo primo, Siroe, Lotario, Partenope, and Sosarme. Handel composed new recitatives, accompanied recitatives, and two arias specially for Oreste. Considering the quality of Handel's previously composed music and the aria's texts, it would be possible for someone who is unaware that Oreste is a pasticcio to experience the same feeling as if they are listening to a Handel opera which works perfectly from a dramatic point of view, and that is full of beautiful music.

The soloists are of a good standard, but in the title-role the mezzo-soprano Mary-Ellen Nesi offers a really interesting and vocally consistent performance. Other performances worthy of mention are by the soprano Maria Mitsopoulou – although her high notes are slightly tense - and the countertenor Nicholas Spanos, who does not have a strong voice, but gives fine, unforced and musical performance (see for example the softness of ‘Qualor tu paga sei’). As Ifigenia, Mata Katsuli has some problems, and her voice often sounds quite close to cracking. Camerata Stuttgart, under George Petrou, prove to be efficient and sensitive accompanists, although some tempos are a shade too moderate. This is an honourable performance of a rare work, and thus it is a particularly important release that deserves attention.

© Philippe Gelinaud - November 2004

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