Handel: Imeneo

Magnus Staveland Imeneo, Ann Hallenberg Tirinto, Monica Piccinini Rosmene, Fabrizio Beggi Argenio, Cristiana Arcari Clomiri, Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi
114:51 (2 CDs in a wallet)
Glossa GCD 923405

A most interesting issue. Hymen’ ‘a new Serenata’, was one of the works which Handel took with him on his famous visit to Dublin in 1742. It is a rewriting of his penultimate opera Imeneo, which had received its (unsuccessful) London premiere in November 1740, following an unusually long (for Handel) gestation, having been begun originally in September 1738. For Dublin, Handel shortened the opera, omitting one character almost entirely, and rewrote the parts of Imeneo (bass) and Tirinto (alto castrato) for tenor and female contralto respectively. Two duets, both for Rosmene with Tirinto, were added. The plot concerns Rosmene’s choice between two suitors – Imeneo, who has saved her life, and Tirinto, whom she loves, and who loves her in return. After some prevarication (including an impressive and emotionally equivocal mad scene) she dutifully chooses Imeneo; remarkably, however, Handel stresses her doomed love with Tirinto, and the moralising final chorus, which follows their prolonged farewell duet, is in the minor key.

The music is consistently charming, and often much more. Alert Handelians will notice echoes from Saul  and Messiah, both of which were composed while Imeneo was in gestation.

The principal part, despite the title, is that of Tirinto, which was sung (in travesti) by Mrs Cibber, who was clearly a favourite of Handel’s. The ever-reliable Anne Hallenberg does it full justice, with warm tone and unshakeable technique. Try her Act 1 ‘Se potessero’ (CD 1 track 5), and prepare to be charmed. Rosmene, probably originally sung by Cristina Avoglio, is Monica Piccinini; her bright soprano blends well with Hallenberg in their two duets (the last, originally from Sosarme, is particularly beautiful) and she brings considerable dramatic flair to her splendid Act 3 accompagnato. Imeneo is sung by tenor Magnus Staveland – his ‘Sorge nell’alma mia’, with its echoes of ‘Why do the Nations’, is suitably exciting, and he blends well with Rosmene and Tirinto in the marvellous trio which concludes Act 2. Fabrizio Beggi’s rich bass makes an excellent Argenio, and the few remaining bars left to Clomiri are ably sung by Cristiana Arcari.

Europa Galante are one of Europe’s top ‘original instrument’ ensembles, and are on cracking form, responding with great panache to Fabio Biondi’s lively direction. The edition used has clearly been given much thought; in his excellent sleevenote Biondi reasonably suggests, for example, (by analogy with the first Messiah  performances) that Handel did not have woodwind players in Dublin, and omits them here.

Hymen was probably the last Handel opera to be conducted by the composer himself (on 31st March 1742); it is admirably recreated here!

Alastair Harper