Elpidia at the LHF

1 Apr

Another Handel pasticcio courtesy of Opera Settecento and the London Handel Festival. This time it’s his first, Elpidia, from 1725. I saw the concert performance at St George’s Hanover Square on 31st March.

A fortnight before, at the same venue I saw a performance by La Nuova Musica of Berenice.  I’m sorry I didn’t get round to blogging about their Berenice but, for the record, I thought it was an excellent performance, had some great music, some less great and surely his most confusing plot: I completely lost track of who was in love with whom and avenging what.

Elpidia’s plot by contrast is quite simple and if I tell you that it’s subtitle is “The Generous Rivals”, you’ll probably get the picture.  Elpidia has three suitors two of whom are noble and one of them (by far the most interesting) abducts her.  It all gets sorted out.  The libretto, by Zeno was heavily cut by either by Handel or by one of his associates to the extent that the piece veered towards the comic.  I’m not sure that worried Handel.

The purpose really was to let London hear arias by the great contemporary Italian composers who hadn’t been heard there.  On the basis that one aria about tempests, or breezes, or guinea fowl is as good as another and can be fitted more or less where you like, they selected some numbers by those composers to slot in at appropriate places.  It struck me that this performance had a similar purpose.  How many of us have heard anything by Vinci, Orlandini, Lotti or Sarri?  This was an opportunity to hear some fine music.

And there were some lovely arias among them.  If none matched Handel at his finest, none had that anonymous quality that some of his lesser arias hold.  Most of the Vinci arias are seriously lovely pieces and I was particularly impressed by the tenor aria Al mio tesoro from his Rosmira, while Orlandini provided a gorgeous alto farewell aria from his own Berenice.  If I have a complaint it was that I would (a) have welcomed a bit of contrast among the arias – there was much less bravura opportunity than you get in the Handel arias of the time and no lighter numbers.  You also don’t get a feel for any of the composers’ personalities.  The evening felt like what it was – a selection of rather good arias sewn together.

All praise to Leo Duarte who did the reconstruction of the piece and who conducted. The reconstruction must have been fascinating with some difficult choices about arias.  His conducting struck me as outstanding – considerate of his singers, bringing out the best in the music.  He got refined, well articulated, secure, confident playing from the very excellent band.  This was marvellously assured baroque playing and conducting.

The singers were strong, all on the threshold, I would say, of pretty strong careers.  Erica Eloff is obviously a favourite with the Opera Settecento management.  She sang Elpidia’s varied arias confidently and with considerable beauty.  Rupert Enticknapp as Olindo, the rival that Elpidia loves, has the more heartfelt arias of the two counter tenor roles and sang them really well.  Joe Bolger, as Ormonte, who has to make do with the seconda donna (who conveniently falls in love with him at first sight) needed a tad more power but I liked his soft-grained but very attractive voice.  Rupert Charlesworth as Vitige, the villain, insofar as there is one, seemed to me to have the finest numbers of all and sang them really convincingly and with great beauty.  Chris Jacklin as Belisario and Maria Oustroukhova as Rosmilda didn’t let the side down either but did not have the same opportunities as their colleagues.  Being hyper-critical, these arias were written for stars and what I missed was the charisma and that last ounce of bravura that, say, a Sutherland or Baker could bring.  I’m not sure that it mattered.

I can’t think of any reason to stage the piece but this was an interesting, rewarding evening.  It made me feel that I’d like to hear a full piece by Vinci and some of the others.  Are there extant versions of his Ifigenia or Rosmira? The latter, in particular, seems to have some gems of numbers in it.  Any chance of Opera Settecento having a go?  We owe a lot to that organisation and I’d strongly recommend booking for their performance of Hasse’s Demetrio at Cadogan Hall in September.

 

 

 

 

 

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