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CD Review

George Frideric Handel


  • Joyce DiDonato (Radamisto)
  • Patrizia Ciofi (Polissena)
  • Maite Beaumont (Zenobia)
  • Domique Labelle (Fraarte)
  • Laura Cherici (Tigrane)
  • Zachary Stains (Tiridate)
  • Carlo Lepore (Farasmane)
Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
Virgin Classics 545673-2 DDD 3CDs: 61:01, 65:25, 50:36
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This is the second complete recording of Radamisto to appear on CD. Nicholas McGegan's competing version (Harmonia Mundi HMU 907111/13) uses Ralf Popken, a counter-tenor, in the title role. (Curtis's Joyce DiDonato is a mezzo-soprano.) Interestingly, this reverses Radamisto's early performance history. At its 1720 première in London's King's Theatre, the role was sung by Margherita Durastanti, but when the opera was revived a few months later, the famous castrato Senesino was cast as Radamisto. Handel also revised the music in the interim, and it is the revised version which was recorded by McGegan, while Curtis favors the original version, with a few exceptions in the third act. McGegan's version has been criticized for heaviness in the recitatives, which certainly is not the case here: they whiz along excitingly. I have not heard all of McGegan's recording, but my impression is that Curtis's recording is more Italianate, and more suited to the style of the opera.

The libretto is based on a historical drama by Georges de Scudéry, L'amour tyrannique. The opera's plot is the typically confusing farrago of unrequited love, disguises, nobility pitted against treachery, and everything set right at the very last minute. The plot hinges around Tiridate, the King of Armenia, who has fallen in love with his sister-in-law, and is willing to conquer neighboring Thrace to get her. Radamisto is Zenobia's husband, and Farasmane, the King of Thrace, is the father of Radamisto and Polissena, Tiridate's faithful yet suffering wife. As with many Baroque operas, there are no "minor" roles per se – each of the seven characters is given several contrasting arias. A work's popularity is by no means a measure of its quality – for example, Handel's sublime Theodora was not appreciated at all at its première. Radamisto, on the other hand, was a big success for Handel, and even in 1720, commentators understood that the secret to Radamisto's success was not the singers or the spectacle but the high quality of Handel's music. The opera's most famous aria is Radamisto's "Cara sposa" in the first act, but there are many no less striking pages, including Polissena's first aria ("Tu vuoi ch'io parta?") and Radamisto's mournful "Ombra cara" in the Act Two. Now, as in 1720, Radamisto is a pleasant way to while away an afternoon or an evening.

The singing is excellent throughout. Patrizia Ciofi continues to make a name for herself as a soprano equally comfortable in the brilliant divisions of Baroque music and as Violetta in Verdi's La traviata. Tenor Zachary Stains sings handsomely and with appropriate martial splendor in the role of Tiridate. As his wife Polissena, mezzo-soprano Maite Beaumont is affecting and warm-timbred. Sopranos Dominique Labelle and Laura Cherici bring appropriately boyish timbres to their respective trouser roles. Carlo Lepore sounds too young to be the father of Ciofi and DiDonato (!), but his bass voice rings out attractively, so who am I to complain? Soprano Joyce DiDonato sings the title role with beautiful attention to style and text, although the voice itself is not as distinctive as those of some of her fellow cast members. Alan Curtis keeps the action moving swiftly but not brutally, and the original instruments ensemble Il Complesso Barocco makes bright and cheerful noises. Virgin's engineering is first-class, and the booklet contains all the expected information.

Copyright © 2005, Raymond Tuttle