Sonia Prina Adriano, Ann Hallenberg Farnaspe, Roberta Invernizzi Emirena, Romina Basso Sabina, Lucia Cirillo Idalma, Ugo Guagliardo Osroa, Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi
172′ (3 CDs)
Fra Bernardo FB1409491
Adriano in Siria was the first of three operas written by the virtuoso violinist Francesco Maria Veracini for Handel’s London rivals, the Opera of the Nobility. It was first performed at the King’s Theatre on 26 February 1735, subsequently running to an impressive 20 performances. The booklet notes for this first recording wrongly suggest a mixed reception, in the process inaccurately citing the king as the leading supporter of the Nobility, and quoting a long, damning (if amusing) report of the opera by Lord John Hervey, without recognising that Hervey was by no means an impartial observer, being a bitter opponent of the Prince of Wales, who was the leading supporter of the Nobility. Adriano was set to a much-altered libretto of Metastasio’s. It tells of the Emperor Hadrian’s (Adriano) betrayal of the Roman princess Sabina in favour of Emirena, his captive and the daughter of his enemy Osroa, King of Parthia. Caught in the middle of this intrigue is Farnaspe, a Parthian prince betrothed to Emirena, a role taken by Farinelli, who headed a glittering cast that also included Senesino (Adriano), Cuzzoni (Emirena) and the bass Montagnana as the fierce Parthian ruler. The score is an admirably capable piece of work that includes an agreeable variety of arias. The writing, perhaps understandably, tends to be more instrumental in character than one might expect from Handel or Hasse, some of it indeed being reminiscent of Vivaldi (cf Osroa’s act 1 aria di furia ‘Sprezza il furor’). If there is a weakness it is a tendency for the instrumental writing (usually for strings alone) to fall back on sequential chains of roulades.
Nonetheless a large vote of thanks is due to Fabio Biondi for reviving the opera (and providing the missing plain recitatives) and doing so with a cast that in present-day terms seeks to emulate the original. Praise must however be tempered with considerable reservation regarding Biondi’s direction of the live performance, which emanates from the 2014 edition of Vienna’s Resonanzen Festival. Tempos are often extreme, while within arias they are often pulled around mercilessly, especially (for some reason) in B sections. The strings, not favoured by a dry recording, sound woefully undernourished, the small number (3-3-2-1-1) contrasting starkly with the 20-odd known to have been employed by the King’s Theatre at the time. The addition of timpani in several numbers is almost certainly spurious. It is a measure of the quality of Ann Hallenberg’s wonderful Farnaspe that it eclipses the remainder of a splendid cast, not least because she is the only one to produce proper trills. But whether in primarily lyrical arias such as ‘Parto, sì bella’ (act 1) or the rather vacuously virtuosic ‘Amor, dover, rispetto’ that ends act 2, Hallenberg is here at her peerless best. The presen-tation by the recently established Fra Bernardo label is poor. The booklet’s small white print on black is difficult to read, there is no translation of the Italian text and the synopsis of the plot is remarkably unhelpful. The company has an interesting catalogue in prospect, but it will need to be more user friendly to English speaking collectors if it is to succeed.
Brian adds: The rating for performance is an average. It would be 2 for orchestral work, 4 for singing (5 for Ann Hallenberg!)