Amadigi di Gaula
Amadigi – Lawrence Zazzo
Melissa / Orgando – Simone Kermes
Oriana – Klara Ek
Dardano – Patricia Bardon
Academy of Ancient Music
Reviewed by: John T. Hughes
Reviewed: 18 May, 2007
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
What an enjoyable evening this was, from every aspect. “Amadigi di Gaula” is not among the best known of Handel’s operas. The Barbican has announced that it will be the first of three lesser-known operas to be given by the Academy of Ancient Music before the 250th-anniversary of Handel’s death, the others beings “Flavio” in 2008 and “Arianna in Creta” in 2009. If those two are performed as well as “Amadigi di Gaula” was, Handelians should be very pleased.
Christopher Hogwood led the strings-dominated orchestra (with two delicious oboes contributing much, plus two recorders and a trumpet more sparingly employed), and very stylish was the playing. Christopher Hogwood is a very experienced Handelian and had the full measure of this opera.
The cast consists of five characters, of whom Orgando has only a few lines of recitative near the end. Amadigi and Dardano love Oriana, thus friends become bitter rivals. To the equation must be added Melissa, an Alcina-like sorceress. Be assured that Amadigi, having killed Dardano, eventually wins Oriana despite Melissa’s malevolent meddling. Her powers are overcome and Melissa stabs herself.
The countertenor Lawrence Zazzo sang Amadigi with easy projection throughout the range. Like his three colleagues, he had the technique to surmount the most daunting of Handel’s vocal divisions. He was also able to roll out long phrases in the more introspective and even melancholic arias. Confronting him, as it were, was the warm, full mezzo of Patricia Bardon, also a noted exponent of Handel. Indeed, the first time I saw her in action was in “Messiah” in Dublin in 1985. (Can 22 years be such a short time?) Hers is a slightly weightier instrument than Zazzo’s but moves through the scalework with fluency. On the other hand, how lovely was her singing of ‘Pena tiranna’ in Act Two, in which Dardano complains of the “Tyrannous Pain at his Heart”, as the original book put it. The two lower-voiced roles were admirably sung and interpreted.
As Oriana was the young Swedish soprano Klara Ek, displaying a sweet, lyric tone and clean emission of the voice. She may not command a big sound, but its quality is most attractive. Like Bardon and Zazzo, she gave a successful performance in both the showy and the solemn arias in her role. Weaving her mysterious powers, Melissa has some substantial music, including the challenging ‘‘Desterò dall’ empia Dite’ with its solo trumpet, an aria in which she rouses the Furies against Oriana and Amadigi. The friend who was with me, who did not know the opera and had never seen Simone Kermes, asked me beforehand to signify her first appearance. I told him that Kermes would probably be in gaudy attire. Sure enough, out she came in a dress (inadequate word) with high halter neck and lengthy train, its ice-blue, turquoise, lemon and lime contrasting with her dark red hair. She gave the expectedly fine performance, with both light, quiet notes and cascades of bright coloratura. Oriana, Amadigi and Dardano were in Melissa’s domain, and Kermes made that quite clear, giving a powerful presentation of the sorceress.
This is an opera worth the attention of Handelians. If this cast, orchestra and conductor can be gathered together in a recording-studio, the result would be two fine CDs, but ‘if’ is a big word. What a pity the BBC ignored it, as it does so many Handel performances from the Barbican.