Matthews, Cangemi, Pasichnyk, Tro Santafé; Foster-Williams, Chiummo; Concerto Köln, Bolton. Production: D. Alden. Opus Arte 1088 D, 208 mins., subtitled
Handel's final operatic venture, 1741's Deidamia, is little known, despite including some wonderful music for its curious, oddly tragicomic libretto. Due to prophecies, Achilles is not only hidden as a woman among the followers of the titular princess of Skyros, who falls for him, but searched for and found by Troy-bound Greek warriors — including the disguised, guileful Ulysses, who also strategically courts Deidamia.
In 2002, Will Crutchfield offered Deidamia at Caramoor. This DVD preserves Netherlands Opera's strong musical performance from 2012 under the idiomatic if sometimes unduly heavy-handed Ivor Bolton, along with the usual pluses and minuses of David Alden's direction.
There's certainly a distinct and striking "look" courtesy of Paul Steinberg (set) and Constance Hoffmann (costumes), with Maxfield Parrish blue skies, blue sea — that everyone walks on — and amusing desert island, submarine, diving platform and bathing suits, as well as the inevitable dark sunglasses. Unfortunately, Joost Honselaar's video filming flatters neither set nor singers' faces and tends too often to follow the omnipresent extras, none more annoying than an onstage "faux" cellist. Jonathan Lunn's awkward, irritating choreography is often deployed when Alden seems unable to think up novel, if that's the apt word, ways of apologizing visually for Handelian opera'sda capo structure. Yet Alden is musical enough to leave some major arias relatively unencumbered; the staging — though never totally free of shoddy gimmicks — grows more convincing as it proceeds.
The first Deidamia was French soprano Élisabeth Duparc, who also created Handel's Semele and Michal in his Saul. Deidamia's arias — slow and swift — demand the utmost technical precision, as well as the only wide range of emotions among the opera's characters. Without a particularly individual timbre, the attractive Sally Matthews demonstrates a fine mastery of line, decoration and breath control, plus expressive coloration. (She also moves well in a skimpy bathing suit.) Veronica Cangemi — playing the confidante Nerea as an ultra-stylish duenna/fitness instructor — balances experienced style and demonstrations of technical aplomb with declining tone quality and some pitch iffiness. Olga Pasichnyk has winning energy and accuracy as the football-jerseyed Achilles, easily lured into the "manly" pursuits of hunting and war. Silvia Tro Santafé does wonderful, vivid work in the ambiguous, often lovely arias assigned to Ulysses's castrato range. Alden has Andrew Foster-Williams (Phoenix, Ulysses's confederate, who courts Nerea) enact a louche Yankee soldier who growls recits overemphatically. Bass Umberto Chiummo upholds native diction as Deidamia's kingly father.
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