> Opera and Oratorio
Il Pastor Fido
Crowe, Dennis, Manley, Shaw; van der Linde, Abadie; La Nuova Musica, Bates. Libretto and translation. Harmonia Mundi 907585.86 (2)
Handel wrote Il Pastor Fido (The Faithful Shepherd) in 1712, a year that witnessed his permanent move from Hanover to London, where he had triumphed the previous year with Rinaldo. The libretto by Giacomo Rossi derives from an earlier Ferrarese play that set a fashion for "Arcadian" portrayals of the ups and downs in the amatory lives of nymphs and shepherds. Pastor Fido is a much different work from the flashy Rinaldo: it is quite straightforward in its pastoral mode, with a small cast, of whom one (the high priest Tirenio, a bass) functions solely as a plot-resolver in the final scene. It also sports a lovely six-part overture. The London public proved indifferent, but Handel revised and expanded the work extensively twenty-two years later, with a starrier cast including the castrato Carestini (who originated Ariodante and Alcina's Ruggiero) as the lead, Mirtillo. Neither version has seen much stage time in the modern era, though Manhattan School of Music mounted a charming production of the earlier version in 2010. In this sonically pristine set for Harmonia Mundi, David Bates and his Nuova Musica present the world-premiere recording of the score's original 1712 edition. Some of the musical numbers derive from Handel's Italian cantatas and showed up in various forms in other works too.
Bates's instrumental players are outstanding, and his singers form a stylistically homogenous, vocally well-matched group. Bright-toned soprano Anna Dennis here takes Mirtillo, sometimes sounding like a treble. As is so often the case with British early-music specialists, her tonal cleanliness and accurate musicianship must be weighed against a failure to do much with the sung Italian text, as such: she does better in recitatives, but the arias sound rather vacant. Fellow soprano Lucy Crowe, a rising star in Britain, is Amarilli, Mirtillo's beloved, who is pledged against her will to the hunter Silvio. Crowe manages more linguistic expressiveness and changes of tone color in her very attractive singing. Yet a third light soprano — Katherine Manley as Eurilla, who yearns for Mirtillo and schemes to catch him — deploys slightly more vibrato than her two colleagues and to my ears thus comes off the more human-sounding; she's also an assured stylist.
Silvio is Clint van der Linde, a stylistically fluent countertenor who produces neither a compelling nor a particularly varied timbre. In van der Linde's case, the cantilena passages earn more from the words than do the recitatives. The contributions of mezzo Madeleine Shaw as Dorinda, who pursues Silvio, prove quite pleasing. Lisandro Abadie offers dry-timbred but capable singing in the priest Tirenio's short role. Four voices (including van der Linde's) handle the brief concluding chorus.