Recordings > Opera and Oratorio

HANDEL: Partenope

CD Button Gauvin, Baráth, Iervolino; Jaroussky, Ainsley, Tittoto; Il Pomo d’Oro, Minasi. Erato 082564609075 (3)

Recordings Partenope Cover 316

HANDEL'S ONCE-OBSCURE 1730 opera has proved well worth reviving in modern times. The comedy of manners among ancient Mediterranean minor royalty plays far better than it reads. The score is consistently enjoyable and—with two duets, a trio and a quartet—boasts more of Handel’s treasurable concerted numbers than the usual meager ration. In North America alone, Glimmerglass, New York City Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and San Francisco Opera have had marked success programming Partenope. Having a few virtuoso Baroque singers is a prerequisite. Erato’s new set—with Il Pomo d’Oro’s fluent, crisp playing under Riccardo Minasi—should satisfy those looking for a good performance. Though some participants seem more apt than others, all six provide considerable tonal and stylistic pleasure.

Karina Gauvin (Partenope) reaffirms her status as one of today’s great Baroque sopranos, with shining tone throughout and few if any problems executing Handel’s considerable technical demands. Only the exquisitely ambiguous “Qual farfalletta” seems rather conventionally imagined. Arsace’s lyrical entrance aria suits Philippe Jaroussky perfectly, as does the punch-drunk “Sento amor,” with its lovely gossamer cadenzas and some other quiet “B” sections. The French countertenor, now thirty-seven, has managed to retain an angelic, boyish quality both physically and vocally, which fuels his cultish popularity but impedes his effectiveness in executing a heroic part such as Arsace. The more broadly conceived arias expose a callow-sounding narrowness of timbre; recits meant to be forceful sound somewhat affected. As Prince Armindo, the suitor Arsace has displaced (written for the contralto Francesca Bertolli), Minasi deploys the limpid soprano of Emöke Baráth (the Sesto of the late Alan Curtis’s Giulio Cesare recording on Naïve). In the Prince’s not very wide-ranging music, the gifted, musical Baráth makes a lovely but distinctly feminine impression.

As Arsace’s forgotten fiancée Rosmira (who arrives at Partenope’s court masquerading in travesti as Eurimene, yet another rival for her hand and favors), Teresa Iervolino fields full-court agility, crisp verbal definition and a handsome but somewhat gender-ambiguous sound. Thus, the disguised woman sounds more macho than either of her male rivals; listeners may find themselves checking the libretto for the identity of the singer. John Mark Ainsley’s musicianship, breath control and fleetness in executing runs are all positives in Handel; but he, too, essentially sounds too mild and studied to be convincing as the swaggering “outsider” Prince Emilio. Like most contemporary basses in Handel casts, recorded or otherwise, Luca Tittoto has a pleasant rather than striking timbre, and he tends to aspirate coloratura, but he can boast native Italian. The new issue certainly rewards repeat listening, and it’s as recommendable as the 2004 Chandos set under Christian Curnyn, with Rosemary Joshua and Lawrence Zazzo, both strong, in the central roles.  —David Shengold 

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