Cher Public

Out of the pastorale

“Trove Thursday” returns with an unbeatable combination: Janet Baker and Handel. The English mezzo appears in the rarely heard Imeneo, a live BBC studio performance from 1979 opposite a young Yvonne Kenny.  

By Imeneo’s 1740 premiere Italian opera in London was nearly dead and Handel was turning increasingly to oratorios to satisfy his restless public. Deidamia which appeared the next year would be the last of Handel’s over 40 operas.

Through it requires just five singers and has a simple, touching plotImeneo is still not done often. The 2004 Glimmerglass Festival production starring American male soprano Michael Maniaci (whatever happened to him?) didn’t transfer to New York City Opera nor did it appear to encourage further productions in the U.S. Perhaps the work’s fortunes are changing in Europe though: Fabio Biondi led a concert performance at last year in Halle and a new staging will be the centerpiece of the 2016 Göttigen Handel Festival.

Although Baker made studio recordings of Ariodante and Giulio Cesare, the remainder of her numerous Handel roles come to us via broadcasts. Most of these essential performances were issued on Ponto CDs but nearly all have now gone out of print. However, this Imeneo, sung in English, was not included in the Ponto series. The excellent Handelian Sir Anthony Lewis leads the English Chamber Orchestra in his own edition of the score and Baker and the underrated Kenny stand out in a fine cast. Their sublime final duet was appropriated by Handel from his earlier opera Sosarme.

Handel: Imeneo (sung in English)
BBC August 1979

Rosmene: Yvonne Kenny
Clomiri: Joy Roberts
Tirinto: Janet Baker
Imeneo: Stephen Varcoe
Argenio: Don Garrard

Thames Chamber Choir
English Chamber Orchestra

Sir Anthony Lewis, conductor

Along with Baker’s Didon in Berlioz’s Les Troyens and all previous “Trove Thursday” offerings, Imeneo is available for download from iTunes or via any RSS reader.

  • Will

    In the summer of 2014, Michel Maniaci gave a recital of arias by Mozart for the Monadnock Festival in Peterborough, NH. that went very well and was received enthusiastically by the audience. The schedule information on the Maniaci page of his agency’s site is very sparse; the most recent date listed there is for May-June of this year at the Spoleto Festival in the opera Veremonda. The most recent performance listed on his Wikipedia page is: “In 2014 he made his debut with the Cincinnati Opera as Endymion in La Calisto” but it also lists a number of orchestras and chamber ensembles with which he appears and says he had a very active concert career.

    • lorenzo.venezia

      Maniaci’s “Il Crociato in Egitto” at La Fenice in 06 or 07 with Patrizia Cioffi was stunning, especially the Maniaci/Cioffi duet, which was sublime!

  • Thanks very much for Imeneo. I’m enjoying it right now. The first Händel opera I ever knew well was Giulio Cesare, and I first knew it in the English version from around the same time (1980 by the time I got my hands on it), with Dame Janet Baker as Caesar.

    • grimoaldo

      ” The first Händel opera I ever knew well was Giulio Cesare, and I first knew it in the English version from around the same time (1980 by the time I got my hands on it), with Dame Janet Baker as Caesar.”

      And that divine creature Valerie Masterson as Cleopatra, also with Della Jones, Sarah Walker and John Tomlinson, conducted by the very greatest musician (imo) it has ever been my privilege to hear, Charles Mackerras.
      I saw every performance of that they did in the first run all those years ago, it is also what opened my eyes to the glories of Handel opera and made me the passionate Handelian I have been ever since.

    • armerjacquino

      You did well to get your hands on it in 1980- although The production opened in 19 The production opened in 1979, it wasn’t taken into the studio until 84. If there’s a 79 pirate I’d love to hear it to catch Baker and Masterson in fresher voice.

      • armerjacquino

        Well that was odd. Hope the meaning is still clear.

      • Christopher Corwin

        There was indeed a broadcast of the 1979 run and an aria from it can be found here:

      • It was on cassettes recorded off the radio, so we had all the bumps and bangs of the stage.

        • Valerie Masterson sang Cleopatra in Paris later, in Nick Hytner’s (influential) production, now replaced by Laurent Pelly’s.

  • Perles75

    Imeneo is a surprisingly interesting opera, hiding quite a dark tale behind the light facade. At the end, basically everyone is miserable (with the possible exception of Imeneo, even if his marriage doesn’t look good considering the premises). It’s almost a parody of the classic baroque cliche of “duty versus love”: usually one of the contenders is evil and gets killed (Ariodante) or is good and withdraws from the competition (Admeto). This is the only example, to my knowledge (and not just within Handel), where the heroine is forced to choose at the end, and she chooses… badly, for our modern standards. In addition, even the second woman remains single at the end, being in love with Rosmene’s choice!
    Quite a dark comedy.

    Spering’s recording is not bad.

  • Timur de Morte

    I don’t think I knew this recording existed. What a pleasure! Thanks, Christopher.

    As Andrew Porter noted, the last time (only time?) Imeneo was played in New York, this is one of Handel’s most winning scores, a constant array of delights however inane the plot.