Handel: Three Portraits of Mezzo-Soprano Heroines

Claves Records CD 50-2504
1 CD
full price
Recorded in 2004.
Released in 2005.





Teseo (HWV 9)


                                Dolce riposo

                                O stringerò nel sen

                                Sibillando, ululando

                                Dunque per vendicarmi ...Aria Morirò

Hercules (HWV 60)

                                Overtura Menuetto

                                O Hercules! The world, when day's career

                                When beauty sorrow's liv'rey wears

                                Resign thy club

                                Cease ruler of the day


                                Where shall I fly?  ... See! See, they come!

Radamisto (HWV 12a)

                                Air (ballo)

                                Marche (ballo)

                                Quando mai

                                Troppo sofferse

                                Son contenta di morire

                                Fatemi, o cieli, almen

Maria Riccarda Wesseling, mezzo-soprano
Lautten Compagney (on period instruments)
Director: Wolfgang Katschner

(Recorded at the Andreas-Kirche, Berlin, between 5-8 October 2004.)

Swiss mezzo-soprano Maria Riccarda Wesseling sings across a range of styles, from Mozart to Carmen to Eötvös, and in recent years has made several appearances in Handel operas, reaching a wider audience in the DVD of Teseo.  She has appeared in both male (Giulio Cesare, Rinaldo) and female roles, and concentrates on the latter for this recording, as the title would suggest.  Wesseling has written her own liner notes, which are more programmatic than musicological, explaining that (to her, at least) the female roles have “a great deal more flesh and bones as characters ... most often they turned out to be the actual masterminds and principle figures in the respective operas”.

She has chosen three works and three such figures:  Medea from Teseo, Dejanira from Hercules (the dramatic oratorio) and Zenobia from Radamisto (revised version).  One might quibble with the disc’s title and suggest that of these three, only Zenobia really qualifies as a heroine, given that Medea has already killed her children before this opera begins and hardly seems to have mended her ways, and Dejanira is driven mad by jealousy and inadvertently kills her husband.  It is however an interesting decision to present a recital which traverses and explores three individual dramatic roles, rather than the usual grab-bag of “favourite arias”.  The vocal performances are interspersed with overtures and other orchestral pieces from the three works.

As those who have seen the Teseo DVD will know, Wesseling is an intensely dramatic performer onstage, and this is also the case here, where she has only her voice to rely on.  It is an excellent instrument, not perhaps as rich as some prominent mezzos, but smooth and accurate with a polished surface.  She has good control, singing unaspirated melismas with a graceful legato and holding the proper vowel sounds with little spreading.  She sings here with little vibrato, occasionally intensifying it for dramatic effect. Wesseling’s diction is excellent in both Italian and English, and one is left in no doubt as to her understanding of the words and their import.  Her ornamentation is dramatic but always tasteful;  one might have wished indeed for a little more.  The playing of Lautten Compagney under Katschner’s direction is similarly pleasing, with appropriate tempi.

If there is a criticism, it is that the program is rather limited in its emotional range.  To be sure, the various “heroines” traverse a range of emotional states, including grief, despair, sorrow, jealousy, mockery, vengefulness, lunacy - but nothing lighter, and nothing joyful;  in short, no really bright bravura arias.  Of course none of these ladies have that in their roles.  One should probably just be grateful that for once a Handel recital disc is taken as an opportunity to display the talents of Handel the dramatist in crafting these women with their “flesh and bones”, as well as the formidable talents of Wesseling and Katschner.

© Sandra Bowdler - November 2005

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