Handel : Lotario

Floral design

Rennert, Lys, Hesse von den Steinen, Navarro Colorado, Perry, Boyce, Festspielorchester Göttingen, Laurence Cummings
187:00 (3 CDs)
Accent Acc 26408

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his live performance of the relatively unfamiliar 1729 opera Lotario by Handel comes from the 2017 Göttingen International Handel Festival. The title role, sung originally by the Italian castrato Bernacchi, is taken by mezzo-soprano Sophie Rennert – Bernacchi was initially poorly received in the role, being unflatteringly compared to the great Senesino, but was deemed to have improved in the face of criticism. In the dog-eat-dog operatic world of early 18th-century London, the opera itself was also deemed ‘very poor’, a verdict which it is hard to understand as this is a piece stuffed with powerful arias, beautiful ensembles and generally music of a very high order of excellence. At a recent performance of the oratorio Samson, I was struck simultaneously by how much superb music Handel wrote and what a small proportion of it is well known. And here is an entire score of music, which is never less than accomplished and often exquisitely beautiful. The libretto is of Byzantine complexity, but as usual with the operas of this period it simply provides a series of scenarios in which characters can sing of love, hate, triumph, desperation and a range of other high emotions. Lotario’s relatively delayed appearance, for instance, gives rise to the lovely aria Rammentati, cor mio, ravishingly sung by Rennert, by which time we have already heard extensively from Marie Lys, whose convincing account of Adelaide is also deeply moving. A strong cast brings this inexplicably obscure music vividly to life, while consistently fine playing from the orchestral forces is also a major factor in this performance’s success. Inevitably there is an element of background noise in this recording of a staged performance, although the one or two startling thumps are restricted to sections of recitative, while the arias are relatively distraction-free. While we might have expected drums and trumpets in the final chorus of a martial opera, Handel eschews this gesture, and in the present performance the ‘chorus’ would seem just to involve the soloists, which may seem a little underwhelming as a conclusion. The informative programme notes include an engaging series of contemporary responses to the opera, and this admirable package has done a fine service in bringing this neglected score to wider attention.

D. James Ross

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