Thanks to the generosity of a parterre reader, “Trove Thursday” presents a rare recording from the famed Carnegie Hall series curated by Matthew Epstein to commemorate Handel’s tercentenary: Tatiana Troyanos and June Anderson in Ariodante conducted by Raymond Leppard.
For more than 60 years, New York City has been fortunate to host organizations dedicated to showcasing prominent singers performing less-often heard operas in concert. From 1950 to 1970, there was the American Opera Society, and right after its demise Eve Queler founded Opera Orchestra of New York. Each season both groups would feature two or three operas, most often chosen according to the availability (and whim) of its featured stars.
However, in the mid-1980s Epstein and Carnegie, partnering with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, attempted something different—an annual series of operas-in-concert focused on a single singer or composer—or both. The first season featured Marilyn Horne in three serious Rossini operas: a “pirate” recording of the 1982 opening night La Donna del Lago is still available from its posting here last fall.
French operas by Offenbach, Thomas and Massenet starring Frederica von Stade followed, while the fourth and final season spotlighted rarely mounted operas by Richard Strauss.
Handel’s 300th birthday fell during 1984-1985, and its three programmed masterpieces (with a bonus of Alessandro imported from Stephen Simon’s Handel Festival in Washington, DC) became among the most eagerly awaited events of the season. Horne’s first-ever Orlando opened the series and a recording of it can be found in a “Trove Thursday” posting from February.
The legendary Semele with Kathleen Battle, Horne, Rockwell Blake and Samuel Ramey, presented on February 23rd, the actual birthday, was broadcast live on NPR, so recordings of it have always been to find.
But this stirring Ariodante seemed to disappear, and until I listened to today’s superb-sounding recording I hadn’t heard it since the concert I attended over 31 years ago.
Troyanos first sang the demanding title role written for the great castrato Carestini in 1971, replacing Shirley Verrett during the opening weeks of the Kennedy Center. Her wonderfully fresh and eager portrayal opposite a high-flying Beverly Sills was captured by a “pirate” and has long been easily available. Unfortunately, its much-cut and transposed musical edition makes the entire performance an unsatisfactory representation of this great opera.
I recall two jarring aspects of that evening at Carnegie in January 1985, both attributable to Troyanos. Ordinarily when a female singer performs a male role in concert, she appears in a chic pants-suit, but Troyanos grandly entered instead in an elaborate concert gown. And while the rest of the cast sang from memory, she often had her head stuck in the score placed on the music stand in front of her. Even with this aid, she still got lost during one of her duets with Anderson madly flipping through the music to find her place!
Ariodante remained in her repertoire for several more years; she sang it in Geneva and then at Santa Fe in 1987. Beginning in the early 1980s Troyanos also took on the title role of Handel’s Giulio Cesare (she had already recorded Cleopatra in that immensely lugubrious Karl Richter set years earlier). She performed Cesare in San Francisco, Geneva and in an ill-starred run at the Met opposite Battle.
The last time I heard Troyanos in person was in another trouser role: a concert of Mozart’s Mitridate, Re di Ponto at Alice Tully Hall in the summer of 1992, about a year before her tragically premature death. That sadly off-form Farnace is not how I want to remember her. However, this absolutely note-complete Ariodante is a particularly gratifying souvenir of a fascinating artist.
This opera’s rewarding title role, recorded by Janet Baker (also with Leppard), Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Anne-Sofie von Otter, retains its allure for star mezzos. Alice Coote sings it this fall in Toronto in Richard Jones’s Aix production, while Joyce DiDonato who recorded the work in 2010 with the late Alan Curtis returns to it next year for an extended world tour with The English Concert which visits Carnegie Hall in April.
And Cecilia Bartoli who has never before sung a Handel hero appears as Ariodante at next June’s Salzburg Pfingsten Festival in a new staging by Christoph Loy.
27 January 1985
Ginevra: June Anderson
Dalinda: Erie Mills
Ariodante: Tatiana Troyanos
Polinesso: James Bowman
Lurcanio: Neil Rosenshein
King of Scotland: Dmitri Kavrakos
Odoardo: Frank Lopardo
Orchestra of St. Luke’s
Conductor: Raymond Leppard
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