Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Handel's Lotario recorded live at the Göttingen festival

Handel - Lotario - Gottingen -Accent
Handel Lotario; Marie Lys, Sophie Rennert, Ursula Hesse von den Steinen, Jorge Navarro Colorado, FestpielOrchester Göttingen, Laurence Cummings; ACCENT
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 16 2018 Star rating: 4.0
Handel's rarely done Lotario emerges as far less of a problem opera in this engaging performance from a young cast

The latest of the live recordings on the Accent label from the Göttingen International Handel Festival is something of a rarity. Laurence Cummings directs the FestpielOrchester Göttingen in Handel's Lotario with a cast which includes Sophie Rennert, Marie Lys, Ursula Hesse von den Steinen, Jorge Navarro Colorado, Jud Perry and Todd Boyce.

Lotario is a strange piece. Premiered by Handel in 1729 as part of the so-called Second Academy, the re-launch after the demise of the original Royal Academy of Music, it was written for a new company including soprano Anna Strada (for whom Handel would write the title role in Alcina) and a new castrato, Antonio Bernacchi. There was clearly a degree of nervousness about the reception of the opera, Lotario is one of a group of Handel operas where the recitative is cut back to the bone. Winton Dean in his masterly book on Handel's operas is completely scathing but Michael Pacholke in his CD booklet note describes the it as masterly compression. This perhaps reflects the way Handel's later operas are being re-assessed in the light of performances. (At the 2017 London Handel Festival, William Relton's production of Handel's Faramondo show how this piece could be made to work on stage, see my review).

I didn't see these performances of Lotario at last year's Göttingen International Handel Festival (the disc was recorded live), but it is clear from this performance that Laurence Cummings and the stage director, Carlos Wagner, drew strong performances from the young cast. Whatever you think of the dramaturgy of the piece - dodgy or masterful compression - there is no doubt that the cast bring out the drama. There might not be much recitative, but it counts.

Handel Lotario - Göttingen 2017 - Jorge Navarro Colorado, Jud Perry (Photo Alciro Theodoro da Silva)
Handel Lotario - Göttingen 2017
Jorge Navarro Colorado, Jud Perry (Photo Alciro Theodoro da Silva)
The arias are something of a mixed bag, rather many of them noodle along nicely (Winton Dean complains rightly of too many simile arias). It does not help that the plot is such that the 'argument' is highly complex.

There is a widowed Queen, Adelaide (Marie Lys), a usurper, Berengario (Jorge Navarro Colorado) and a rescuer, Lotario (Sophie Rennert). Adelaide is wooed by both Lotario and by Berengario's son, Idelberto (Jud Perry), there is also Berengario's wife, who is vicious. Adelaide manages to say no to everyone, till the final lieto fine. There are some good moments, and enough striking arias to make you curious about the piece.

Adelaide (Marie Lys) stands out partly because she is the only soprano in the cast. But her aria which concludes Act one, when she sings defiance of Berengario is a knock out. Lys shows great control in her first powerful Act Two aria, and the second in that act has her almost duetting with the violins (the accompaniments in the opera are full of felicities) over a marching bass. Her sole aria in Act Three is full of bright firm tone as she shows she is still implacable in the cause of right, so it is a shame we do not hear more of her here (she simply crops up again in the final duet with Lotario).

The role of the usurper Berengario is one of Handel's fascinating vacillating villains.
With a noble woman and a neurotic villain we are back in Rodelinda territory. Jorge Navarro Colorado sings with wonderfully firm tone, giving us some fine strong lines. His initial cavatina is very striking with angular rhythms in the orchestra, a perfect picture of the villain's neuroses and the subsequent aria is equally striking. Once defeated, Berengario has a strong accompagnato followed by an aria in which Navarro Colorado combines firm lyric tone with somewhat smudgy runs, though judging by the amount of stage noise, there was clearly a clot of action too. There is more vigorous passage-work in his second Act Two aria, whilst that in Act Three is notable for the wonderfully restless accompaniment. Like Adelaide, Berengario rather evaporates from this last act, which is a shame.

Handel Lotario - Göttingen 2017 - Sophie Rennert, Marie Lys (Photo Alciro Theodoro da Silva)
Handel Lotario - Göttingen 2017 -
Sophie Rennert, Marie Lys (Photo Alciro Theodoro da Silva)
Lotario is a good egg, and Adelaide marries him in the end, with a charming duet. Sophie Rennert sings with warmly attractive lyric tone, often gentle, firm and well modulated but the character takes some time to come alive. Her final aria in Act Two (another simile aria) is thoughtful and not uncomplicated, and rather moving. In Act Three, her aria is lively and full of careful passage-work, and only in the Da Capo does it really seem to come alive.

Matilde (Ursula Hesse von den Steinen) is Berengario's wife and one of the stronger characters, though Handel's music for her does not always take off. Of her Act One arias, the first is graceful with some beautifully crafted tone, whilst the faster second one is another simile aria when you long for something more characterful. Thankfully, her second act aria is very striking with its unison violin part and Ursula Hesse von den Steinen makes the most of the vigorous passage-work, and has more in Act Three but it is Matilde's accompagnato at the end of the opera (yet more defiance) which really stands out.

Todd Boyce as Clodmiro as an attractive lyric baritone and a lively engaging manner, it is hardly his fault if his arias generally are superfluous to the drama. Idelberto is a bit of a drip, and never manages to achieve his aim of marrying Adelaide. In Act One his aria is attractive enough, but it is his second act aria which is striking, with pauses and moments of thoughtful introspection, but Jud Perry rather lets the register changes show too much, though he gives a powerful account of his final aria, when he confesses to his mother that he has freed Adelaide.

Laurence Cummings directs a dramatic and pacey performance, with the orchestra bringing out all the imaginative details of Handel's score.

The CD booklet includes articles and pictures of the production, plus full text and translations though the English one is the one use for the premiere in 1729 which means you sometimes have to think somewhat to work out what on earth a character is going on about.

Lotario is never going to be in the top 10 of Handel operas, but this set shows that it can really work. By recording it live, though we lose something in detail and occasional accuracy, the gains are immense as the young singers really show how engaged they are with the drama.

Handel Lotario
Lotario - Sophie Rennert (mezzo-soprano)
Adelaide - Marie Lys (soprano)
Matilde - Urusula Hesse von den Steinen (mezzo-soprano)
Berengario - Jorge Navarro Colorado (tenor)
Idelberto - Jud Perry (counter-tenor)
CLodomiro - Todd Boyce (baritone)
FestspielOrchester Göttingen
Laurence Cummings (conductor/harpsichord)
Recorded live at Deutsches Theater, Göttingen on 19 May 2017
ACCENT ACC-26408 3CDs [67.55, 63.14, 56.16]
Available from Amazon.

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