For my early self-birthday gift “Trove Thursday” offers a Handel-orgy of rarely done works: a fierce Teseo featuring Max-Emanuel Cencic; Ann Hallenberg (and chorus!) dazzling in Donna che in ciel; and the entrancing duet cantata Cecilia volgi un squardo with Maria Keohane and Joshua Ellicott.
Handel’s third opera for London, Teseo is unique in that it’s in five acts, its libretto an adaptation of Quinault’s for Thésée by Lully. Like Amadigi of the same period, all its main roles are for high voices—soprano or alto. Medea, its dominant character, is the first of the composer’s great lovesick sorceresses to be followed by Melissa in Amadigi, Armida in Rinaldo and, of course, Alcina.
Her furious, wounded music is among the opera’s finest but there are many gems in this mostly ignored work which contains an unusual number of duets, including one of Handel’s greatest: an orgiastic explosion by the hero and his much-abused paramour to conclude Act IV.
I’ve had a special affection for Teseo since I saw it staged for the Handel tricentenary at the 1985 PepsiCo Summerfare where it was conducted by Nicholas McGegan who also brought it to Lincoln Center in 2014.
I was fortunate to attend this superb Paris concert performance which features a wonderful orchestra, three fine countertenors, two delicious sopranos (both frequent performers with Les Arts Florissants) and the fiery, underrated Greek mezzo Mary-Ellen Nesi as Medea. Nesi, I’ve recently learned, has recorded her first solo aria CD full of dazzling unknown baroque jewels.
Théâtre des Champs-Elysées
12 February 2011
Emmanuelle de Negri — Agilea
Mary-Ellen Nesi – Medea
Ana Quintans – Clizia
Max Emanuel Cencic — Teseo
Xavier Sabata — Egeo
Damien Guillon — Arcane
Les Folies Françoises
Patrick Cohën-Akenine – conductor
The Hallenberg selection is an extended sacred cantata written during Handel’s early transformational trip to Italy to celebrate the Virgin Mary. Consisting of several moving recitatives and da capo arias, it concludes with a vivid and surprising aria con coro!
Handel: Donna, che in ciel di tanta luce splendi
20 January 2016
Collegium Vocale 1704
Václav Luks – conductor
Unlike the two previous works as well as most of his other cantatas, Cecilia dates much later in Handel’s career, 1736. It includes two infectious arias for tenor, followed by one for soprano and ends with a lively, endearing duet.
Handel: Cecilia volgi un sguardo
West Cork Chamber Music Festival
3 July 2015
Jonathan Cohen — conductor
These three Handel pieces as well as last week’s Poppea can each be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the posting’s audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.