Magazine article Gramophone

Handel: Ottone, Re Di Germania

Magazine article Gramophone

Handel: Ottone, Re Di Germania

Article excerpt

Handel [G] Ottone, re di Germania  Max Emanuel Cencic counterten          Ottone Lauren Snouffer sop                   Teofane Pavel Kudinov bass-bar                Emireno Ann Hallenberg mez                   Gismonda Xavier Sabata counterten            Adelberto Anna Starushkevych mez                Matilda 

II Pomo d'Oro / George Petrou Decca (M) (c) 483 1814DH03 (3h 23' * DDD) Includes synopsis, libretto and translation

Premiered at the King's Theatre, Haymarket, in January 1723, Ottone was the first Handel opera to pair his star draws of the 1720s: the soprano Francesca Cuzzoni, making her London debut as Teofane, and the castrato Senesino in the title-role. Both were singers with attitude. But they met their match in Handel, who reputedly threatened to throw Cuzzoni out of the window until she agreed to quell her prima donna's vanity and sing Teofane's simple and touching opening aria 'Falsa imagine'. Ironically, the aria made Cuzzoni's London reputation as a soprano without equal in the 'pathetic' style. Centring on the attempts of the scheming matriarch Gismonda and her unlovely son Adelberto to prevent King Ottone from marrying the Byzantine Princess Teofane and assuming his rightful throne, Ottone's pseudohistorical libretto is often hopelessly confused. This evidently mattered not a jot to Handel's audiences. The combination of Senesino, Cuzzoni and Handel's melodic fertility (Charles Burney reported that many of the arias soon became 'national favourites') made Ottone an instant success. With a total of 36 performances over five seasons, it was eclipsed in popularity only by Rinaldo during his lifetime.

These days Ottone ranks well down the Handel pecking order, not least because of the plot's muddles and absurdities. On CD, though, it has fared relatively well, with two period-instrument versions appearing in quick succession from Nicholas McGegan (Harmonia Mundi, 3/93) and Robert King (Hyperion, 7/93). Both do the opera fair justice. But this new version, recorded in the sympathetic acoustic of the Villa San Fermo in the Veneto, easily surpasses them in consistency of casting and dramatic flair. Without pressing the tempos unduly (except when dancing on hot coals in the Overture's fugue), George Petrou draws rhythmically animated, sensitively coloured playing from the crack Italian band. Abetted by an alert, unfussy continuo, recitatives are lively and naturally paced, though not even Petrou and his singers can save the final denouement from blink-and-you-miss-it perfunctoriness.

The cast is uniformly strong. Ottone is more mooning lover than strutting hero, always ready to buckle in a crisis. …

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