Tuesday, March 11, 2014

OTF – Handel’s Radamisto

This is my Once or Twice a Fortnight post from March 11, 2014.


On OTF, we have mostly explored operas of the mid- to late-19th century, from German, Italian and French traditions. We have sometimes bucked that trend, considering Twentieth Century works, or even Russian opera. Today, however, we are trying something different – baroque opera.

I am the first to admit that, although I don’t mind baroque music, I find its rigid form to be quite confining, and the styles and dance patterns that form the cornerstone of that genre don’t “yank my chain” as much as music of the last 200 years. This doesn’t mean that I dislike baroque music – and by extension baroque opera – but rather that it’s not a genre I naturally gravitate towards. One of the things that is also worth noting about baroque opera is how the voice types and characters are depicted – it is not uncommon that male heroes are rendered by higher pitched voices such as castrati and sopranos.

Opera was created in Italy around 1600 as courtly entertainment, intended for the elite and enjoyed in private settings. In 1637 the first truly public opera house opened in Venice and soon opera became hugely popular. The first baroque operas featured mythological stories (such as Orpheus and Eurydice) and the stories were often changed to have happy endings - tragedies did not become operatic staples until the 1800s. Because it pleased audiences, comic relief - and eventually comic operas - became more prevalent.

Around 1700 opera was “reformed” to separate comedy from tragedy – for the next 75 years, with few exceptions, operas were divided into two types: seria (serious opera) and buffa (comic opera). Not until the time of Mozart would the genres start to be mixed again, and the era of Baroque opera end. In a past OTF, we listened to Mozart’s Idomeneo, and we had there a prototypical opera seria – a tale based on history or mythology, with complex and sometimes confusing relationships between the protagonists. You definitely need a libretto to follow the action!

London’s Royal Academy of Music was formed in 1720, with sixty-two original subscribers, a place on the stock market, a royal subsidy from George I, and annual subscribers for each season. Their financial resources were secure and the directors sought to engage to best singers from Italy, and they hired composers in residence as well. George Frederic Handel was hired as master of the orchestra and given an annual salary. Between 1711 and 1740 Handel wrote upwards of 40 Italian operas, most of which are stunning masterpieces of the form. Among his masterpieces are Giulio Cesare in Egitto (1724), Rodelinda (1725), Ariodante (1734), and Alcina (1735).

Today’s opera, Radamisto, was Handel's first opera composed for the Academy. Of the two librettists working for the Academy, Handel turned to Nicola Haym, a scholar, orchestral musician, arranger, and author. Haym had an ability to bring out the best in Handel. He shows a flair for creating dramatic momentum, and a dynamic organization of musical text. He knew how to allow room for an aria, and how to integrate melodic set pieces into the flow of the story.

The first operas he composed for the academy were different than previous operas of Handel. Unlike Rinaldo and Amadigi, Radamisto contains no magic, mythology, or spectacle. It adheres much more closely to opera seria traditions. The source for Haym's libretto is a libretto by Domenico Lalli, one of the finer, more poetic opera seria authors. The historical context is found in Tacitus's Annals of Imperial Rome. The happily married Radamisto and Zenobia are besieged by Tiridate, ruler of a neighboring country. Despite his marriage to the faithful Polissena, Tiridate has fallen passionately in love with Zenobia and his attempts to secure and seduce her are the forces that drive the story. The "tyrannical love" which consumes Tiridate eventually gives way and he is reunited with Polissena, while Radamisto and Zenobia celebrate the "sweet refuge" they find in each other's arms.

The important relationships in the opera are familial; daughters, sisters and brothers, wives and husbands, all display varieties of love, fidelity, heroism, deception, and callousness. There is an unfeeling tyrant (Tindante) spurred to cruelty by his illicit passions, who repents in the end in part due to the virtues of his wife and the strengths of his friends. In many ways, Tindante is a stock character in opera seria, appearing in many operas of Handel, and hundreds of operas in the eighteenth century.

THE PERFORMANCE

Review of this performance @ http://www.operatoday.com/content/20...l_radamist.php


George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759)
Radamisto, HWV 12
Opera in three acts
Italian libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym, based on L'amor tirannico, o Zenobia by Domenico Lalli and Zenobia by Matteo Noris.

PRINCIPAL CAST

Radamisto, son of Farasmane; Joyce DiDonato
Zenobia, his wife; Maite Beaumont
Tiridate, King of Armenia; Zachary Stains
Polissena, his wife, daughter of Farasmane; Patrizia Ciofi
Farasmane, King of Thrace; Carlo Lepore
Tigrane, Prince of Pontus; Laura Cherici
Fraarte, brother of Tiridate; ), Dominique LaBelle
Il Complesso Barocco under Alan Curtis

Synopsis @ https://www.operalogg.com/radamisto-opera-av-georg-friedrich-handel-synopsis/
Libretto @ http://www.haendel.it/composizioni/l...pdf/hwv_12.pdf
 

This opera was edited out of the Friday Night at the Opera podcast of 26 August 2011, and includes the spoken introductions by hoist Sean Bianco. Original link: https://archive.org/details/FNAO110826