“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 plot, Imeneo 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