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Giove in Argo
Gauvin, Baka, Hallenberg; Giustiniani, Weisser, Priante; Il Complesso Barocco, Curtis. Italian text and English translation. Virgin Classics 50999 7231162 2 (3)
For years it was thought that Handel's 1739 pasticcio, Giove in Argo, could not be reconstructed. The conducting score was lost, and recitatives for two acts, as well as two important arias indicated in the libretto, could not be located. But in 2000, American musicologist John Roberts discovered the missing arias — which turned out to be by Handel's younger contemporary, Francesco Araja — and set the recitatives stylishly for a scholarly edition of the score. Alan Curtis conducted the first performances of this reconstruction in 2007, and he returns to the opera with his experienced Baroque sensibility and familiar cast members.
Handel's attempts to keep opera seria alive in a London that was growing bored led him to select some of his most effective Italian arias from recent works (everyone will recognize "Tornami a vagheggiar," from Alcina) and make use of new material from his still-incomplete Imeneo, advertising new Italian singers, who were always a draw. He scaffolded the show with choral numbers and organ concertos, important components of his increasingly popular oratorios, and put that in the promotional notices as well.
The pastoral setting features two of Jove's amorous adventures, one involving Calisto, a nymph and follower of the goddess Diana, and the other involving Io or Isis (yes, the future spouse of the Egyptian King Osiris). Fitting pre-existing arias into a new story makes the plotlines rather obscure, and the mad scene for Iside (Isis) seems gratuitous. The pieces by Araja — a concession Handel granted the visiting prima donna, who had recently sung them in Venice — are noticeably more modern in style. (Think Pergolesi.) Nevertheless, Handel makes a charming scene out of the meeting of Calisto with Diana, framed with fleet choral numbers, and he cleverly overlays a catchy trio from Tirsi, Clori e Fileno with contrapuntal oratorio-style choral writing. He even gives an aria from Berenice to Jove, who must use the da capo form to apologize in turn to the outraged Iside and the chaste Calisto, who have caught him out.
Horns feature prominently in the overture and several of the choruses, setting the pastoral/hunting atmosphere and adding richness to the texture of Curtis's exemplary period-instrument band, Il Complesso Barocco. As Arete, the disguised Jove, tenor Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani uses his mellow voice and sweet top effectively and tastefully, especially in the rollicking "Semplicetto! A donna credi?" In the role of the tyrant Licaone, baritone Johannes Weisser brings broad portamento to his recitatives and vocal ease to the martial "Affanno tiranno." Bass Vito Priante sings the role of Osiris, disguised as the shepherd Erasto, with splendid sound and exciting top notes, forcefully characterizing each of his arias with musical sophistication.
Mezzo-soprano Theodora Baka's sunlit tones and beguiling grace make Diana's "Non ingannarmi" one of the disc's most delicious moments. Curtis's deliberately restrained tempo surrounds Baka's lovely singing — minimal vibrato and an attractive color — with elegance and delicacy.
Iside has the juiciest music, carefully outfitted in high tragic vein for the visiting diva, and Ann Hallenberg's committed dramatic sense and fine musicianship make the most of several passionate accompanied recitatives. "Nel passar da un laccio," a complex version of "As with rosy steps the morn," is poised and elegant, showing off Hallenberg's beautiful trill.
Soprano Karina Gauvin's full lyric singing and impeccable tuning highlight the siciliano "Già sai che l'usignol," yet she can spit out "Tutta raccolta ancor" with venom. The obligatory storm-tossed ship aria, "Combattuta da due venti" (from Faramondo), sounds less than agitated at Curtis's leisurely tempo, but Gauvin's kittenish sound and easy grace propel "Tornami a vagheggiar" delightfully.
As we expect from Curtis, recitatives are unfussy and direct, and cadenza flourishes keep arias moving to a proper finish. The booklet's English translation is adapted from the printed 1739 libretto.
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