Amadigi Review: Winning registration should gain new fans for Handel’s romantic story

Amadigi Review: Winning registration should gain new fans for Handel’s romantic story

It is strange that Handel’s Amadigi is not better known, given what it has to offer. For a start it is short, for a work by Handel (these things are relative), and compact, with only four characters unless you count the deus ex machina that pops up for a few minutes at the end. In essence, it’s a drama about two lovers and the two people who are trying to separate them, and it could be simple if one interfering wasn’t a witch. Audiences at the original London production in 1715 would have been thrilled by the magical effects when the sorceress Melissa conjured up one spectacular scene change after another.

UK audiences have been able to experience something of this recently thanks to English Touring Opera and Garsington, both of which staged productions last year. Christian Curnyn was the conductor at Garsington; the recording of him, made with his usual group, the Early Opera Company, is only the third of the opera. All roles are for high-pitched voices, which could have made home listening unchanged, but there is an effective contrast between the liquid tone of Tim Mead’s countertenor in the lead role and Hilary’s distinctive steel-hearted alto. Summers as his false friend Dardanus. The two sopranos, Mary Bevan as Melissa and Anna Dennis as Oriana, have a closer tone, but both respond with a glorious song to the way Handel’s music draws their different characters.

The balance is skewed in favor of slow arias, and there are some fine examples, including Amadigi’s aria at the Fountain of True Love, accompanied by recorders, and Oriana’s long elegy when she believes Amadigi is dead. The orchestra is small but used in an evocative way, with lead oboist Katharina Spreckelsen getting plenty of time on the air. The most interesting character is Melissa, who is unexpectedly sympathetic – as does Dardano, whose great aria, Pena tiranna, has an intensity that makes it pretend to be the emotional heart of the work. After all, it’s not that simple – and this recording should help win new friends in the opera.

The other choice this week

This is another solo recording by pianist Mark Viner, the best friend a neglected piano music composer can have. This time he turned his attention to Felix Blumenfeld, born in Ukraine in 1863, and to the set of 24 Preludes he wrote in emulation of Chopin. They fall into fertile ground somewhere between that composer and Rachmaninov, less flashy than the latter, full of inventions still up to date and ripe for rediscovery.

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