Handel: Aci, Galatea & Polifemo / Invernizzi, Bonizzoni, La Risonanza

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HANDEL Aci, Galatea e Polifemo • Fabio Bonizzoni, cond; Roberta Invernizzi ( Aci ); Blandine Staskiewicz ( Galatea ); Lisandro Abadie ( Polifemo ); La...

HANDEL Aci, Galatea e Polifemo Fabio Bonizzoni, cond; Roberta Invernizzi ( Aci ); Blandine Staskiewicz ( Galatea ); Lisandro Abadie ( Polifemo ); La Risonanza GLOSSA 921515 (2 CDs: 90:21 Text and Translation)

As a general rule, the librettos of wedding serenatas were the most fawning of any works in the voice-with-orchestra format, from the 17th through the 19th centuries. A typical example that I reviewed recently—Heinichen’s La gara degli dei (Berlin Classics 0300544BC)—had a plot that consisted of nothing more than several major Greco-Roman gods delivering obsequious praise for a royal couple about to be wed, with Jove deciding which flattery came nearest the truth. That was the standard. Which is why the choice of subject that the highly cultured Aurora Sanseverino, Duchess d’Laurenzana provided for a serenata gift to her nephew, Duke Tolomeo d’Alvito upon his 1708 wedding, strikes such a discordant note with us today.

Consider: While the setting is still Greco-Roman, there is no praise of weddings in general or the wedded pair in specific, either directly or indirectly. Not only don’t the lovers in Aci, Galatea e Polifemo end up married; one of them ends up murdered. If she meant it as a slur, the Countess would hardly have turned it into a twofer, having the work subsequently performed again at the marriage of her own son, Count Pasquale d’Alife. It’s been suggested that she intended this as an Italian effort to ward off the evil eye through reverse rituals, but most contemporary wedding serenatas don’t take this course. (And if that were the case, the ward failed: Both bridegrooms died within a relatively short time.) Was there perhaps a Christian message involved—that the body dies, but the soul (represented by Galatea transformed after death into a river that joins Neptune’s ocean) lives on?

Whatever the reason, Aci, Galatea e Polifemo has been one of the more frequently performed of Handel’s Italian-period works in modern times, if not to the extent of his 1707 oratorio Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno . The composer’s style had fully matured. His ability to absorb new musical developments and turn them to maximum advantage was everywhere evident. He seems to have relished the ability to create vivid characterizations, in a musical environment that delighted in such a skill.

The serenata has also been fortunate on records. Medlam/London Baroque (now on Harmonia Mundi 1901253) remains a joy more than two decades after its release, combining an austere touch in regard to ornamentation and a lightness suited to the intimate, chamber-like nature of the piece. I have not heard Marco Vitale/Contrasto Armonico Baroque Orchestra, (Brilliant Classics 93665), and honestly wish I hadn’t heard the dismal Ciavatta/Camerata del Titano (Dynamic 272). My review of the DVD featuring Florio/Cappella della Pietà de’ Turchini (Dynamic 33645) found it mixed on a musical level (Mingardo and Rosique strong, Abede severely off form), while the visuals were both overly clever and almost entirely divorced for the work. This brings us to Haïm/Le Concert d’Astrée (Virgin Classics 45557), a bold rethinking of the piece that ornaments highly, and implements far broader differences in tempo linked to a deeper perusal of character—most notably so in the case of Laurent Naouri’s Polifemo.

Fabio Bonizzoni’s Aci was initially announced over a year ago. The cover states it was recorded in June 2012, but for whatever reason it was held back until now. In some ways it marks a middle path between Medlam and Haïm. Light textures predominate, and tempos are close to Medlam, but ornamentation in da capo aria repeats is more extensive. Bonizzoni’s small instrumental ensemble (15 musicians, not counting the conductor at the harpsichord) allows his oboe, recorder, pair of trumpets, and strings to shine out with a chamber-like clarity. I am second to no one in my appreciation of Emma Kirkby’s art, but Roberta Invernezzi’s brighter tone and more forthright theatricality (she actually makes the eagle metaphors of “Dell’aquila l’artigli” sound threatening) move matters closer to Haïm. I singled out Blandine Staskiewicz in the small role of Minerve in Campra’s Le Carnival de Venise (Glossa 921622) and praised her focus in Lully’s Proserpine (Glossa 921615). Her agility (“Cadrai depressa e vinta”) and sensitivity (“Se m’ami, o caro”) are excellent; and with a Galatea of this skill, Bonizzoni is not above utilizing Haïm-like dramatically contrasting tempos in sections of “Del mar fra l’onde” to make so much more of her characterization.

But the most impressive thing on this release is Lisandro Abadie’s Polifemo. His “Sibilar l’angui d’Aletto” displays a dark, sonorous bass, and a bright, supported, top. Deep notes hit solidly, at full strength. He is extremely agile, yet capable of cantabile phrasing made all the smoother for its rapid, well-controlled vibrato. Abadie’s enunciation is excellent, and the broad leaps Handel uses to give us a musical image of the giant’s ungraceful movements come off without a hitch. Substitute more fine examples of range, breath control, and tone for agility, and you have his astonishing “Fra l’ombre e gli orrori.” Neither David Thomas (Medlam) nor Laurent Naouri (Haïm) come within hailing distance of this Polifemo.

La Risonanza is to be commended for its clarity, tonal beauty, and fluid phrasing. It remains only to be mentioned that to conclude his series dedicated to Handel’s Italian cantatas, Bonizzoni adds as a bonus track the duet that originally concluded Clori, Tirsi, e Fileno . (Handel later replaced it with a trio to bring all the characters back.) The liner notes give the mistaken impression that it’s lifted from Glossa 921525, but that’s not the case, as it wasn’t included in that release. It’s performed by Invernezzi and Staskiewicz, and makes a fine conclusion to a survey of music that should be snapped up by Handelians everywhere—with thanks to Bonizzoni and all those who have worked with him over the years to make these Glossa issues such a success.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal

Product Description:

  • Release Date: September 24, 2013

  • UPC: 8424562215153

  • Catalog Number: GCD921515

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 2

  • Composer: George Frideric Handel

  • Conductor: Fabio Bonizzoni

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: La Risonanza

  • Performer: Blandine Staskiewicz, Lisandro Abadie, Roberta Invernizzi