Album Review Partenope

This fleet-footed, five-star Handel is ideally suited for a contemporary audience, says Graham Rogers, who puts this new Partenope straight to the top of the pile.

If you’ve been put off Handel operas by the unvaried diet of interminable da capo arias, then Partenope could be the work to win you over. Most of the glorious arias in this sparkling new recording are around three minutes long (the longest is only 6’45), and an unusually high quota of ensemble numbers provides welcome textural variety. Recitatives may be slightly longer than usual but are pithily conversational – far from bogging things down, they actually liven proceedings up.

It’s a wonderfully lighthearted work too. Sneered at by the Royal Academy of Music for being too frivolous when they rejected Handel’s proposition, Partenope is a fast-paced love-tangle drama with rare emotional sincerity and liberal doses of genuinely funny comedy which delighted London audiences when eventually staged at the King’s Head in 1730 (so much so that it was revived that year and again in 1737).

These qualities are ideally suited to modern tastes too, so it’s surprising that Partenope has not been more recorded. The main rival to this new set from Riccardo Minasi and hot young Italian period-instrument band Il Pomo d’Oro is Christian Curnyn’s 2004 Chandos version – which, good as it is, is decisively trumped by Minasi and his superb cast lead by Karina Gauvin’s magnificent Partenope, the queen who has to chose between many suitors. They include Philippe Jaroussky’s seductively suave Arsace and the pure Armindo, sung by exceptionally sweet-voiced soprano Emőke Barath. This is one of the best Handel opera recordings to appear for some time.

Artists: Karina Gauvin (soprano), Emőke Barath (soprano), Teresa Iervolino (mezzo-soprano), Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Luca Tittoto (bass), Il Pomo d'Oro/Riccardo Minasi.

Graham Rogers writes for The Stage, Opera and Opera News.

Graham Rogers, Sinfini Music
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