Handel: Catone

Sonia Prina Catone, Roberta Invernizzi Emilia, Kristina Hammarstrom Arbace, Riccardo Novaro Cesare, Lucia Cirillo Marzia, Auser Musici, Carlo Ipata
125:15 (2 CDs in a wallet)
Glossa GCD 923511

Catone takes us into the murky world of the Baroque operatic pastiche, where overworked operatic composers such as Handel occasionally resorted to stringing together arias by his contemporaries with purpose-built storylines and recitatives. What is fascinating is whom Handel preyed upon. It is convenient that Leonardo Leo had staged a Catone opera in Venice in 1729, so Handel helped himself to a number of arias from this, while he also drew upon the fashionable music of Porpora and Hasse and even found some Vivaldi he could shoe-horn in. The choice of Porpora and Hasse is particularly interesting, as several of the castrati Handel worked with in London had sung their music, and they may even have already known the material he was now purloining – minimal time wasted on rehearsal! The present recording is an amalgam of several live concert performances and there is a fine orchestral sound and the singers are generally of a high standard. It is perhaps a shame in these days of the return of the superstar male alto that both castrato roles are taken by women – anybody who has heard Franco Fagioli sing one of these roles would regard any female voice, no matter how good, and these are both rather good, as a poor second best. What is certain is that this particular pastiche, and probably others which Handel confected for his London audiences, are well worth exploring and recording. Until recently, those in the know used to sneer at them, but when you consider that most Baroque operatic plots are pretty impenetrable and often deeply silly, this kind of synthetic opera is probably no sillier and has the virtue of presenting the best work of several fine operatic masters, moulded into shape by one of the finest composers of baroque opera. Certainly, in this engaging performance it was hard to spot the joins.

D. James Ross