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George Friderick HANDEL (1685-1759)
Lotario: Opera in three Acts, HWV26 (1729)
Sophie Rennert (mezzo - Lotario)
Marie Lys (soprano - Adelaide)
Jorge Navarro Colorado (tenor - Berengario)
Todd Boyce (baritone - Clodomiro)
Jud Perry (counter-tenor - Idelberto)
Ursula Hesse von den Steinen (mezzo - Matilde)
FestspielOrchester Göttingen/Laurence Cummings (harpsichord)
rec. live Göttingen International Handel Festival, May 2017. DDD.
Texts and translations included
ACCENT ACC26408 [67:53 + 63:14 + 56:16]

The headline news is that this is the only current recording of Lotario on CD; it’s almost complete, with one short scene omitted, and it’s well worth obtaining. An earlier Deutsche Harmonia recording directed by Alan Curtis is available as a download only, without the booklet and in an abridged format, reduced by about half an hour by the omission of repeats – review of CD release. If you already have it, perhaps as part of the Sony super-budget Handel opera 22-CD set – no longer generally available, though one hopeful on Amazon is asking £347.70 – should you trade it in for the new recording?

There is also a single CD offering 69 minutes of highlights, directed by Paul Goodwin on Oehms (OC902 – review). I haven’t heard this, but it has been generally well received.

The plot is as complicated as that of any Handel opera, not least because there are two Lotarios – the former king who has been poisoned before the action begins and the Germanic Otto, renamed Lotario for this opera, perhaps because Handel already had an Ottone Re di Germania (1723). I understand that there were a few oddities in the production, such as dressing General Clodomiro as a priest. As I find myself frequently listening to DVD and blu-ray operas in audio only, after one run-through in video, I’m pleased on this occasion just to hear the performance.

Don’t expect an opera with big set-piece arias: the strength of the work lies more in the reflective pieces, such as Lotario’s Rammentati, cor mio (CD1, track 10). With Sara Mingardo on the rival recording, Sophie Rennert is up against very strong opposition. Mingardo is one of the few mezzos whom I think of in the same league as Janet Baker, but Rennert is certainly not put in the shade by the comparison – she’s less declamatory, more thoughtful. This aria also provides a good example of the main choice between these two recordings: at 6:46, Accent give us all the repeats whereas DHM/Sony shorten the piece by more than half.

Lotario’s aria which closes Act II, Non disperi peregrino, comes close to matching Handel’s better-known affective pieces. Here again, both Rennert and Mingardo, in their different ways, round off the act splendidly. This time Mingardo is allowed to sing the aria in full, though at a slightly faster pace. If I must choose between two such fine singers, I think Rennert just has the edge here – as before, she’s more reflective, Mingardo more declamatory.

The closing numbers of each act bring the nearest thing that Lotario has to offer by way of bravura arias. Marie Lys as Adelaide brings the first act to a rousing conclusion (Scherza in mar la navicella: CD1, track 20). Here and elsewhere she is one of the strengths of this recording. Her voice is a little lighter than that of Simone Kermes for Curtis and she’s a trifle less declamatory; otherwise there’s little to choose between them. I doubt if Handel’s star singer Anna Maria Strada sounded any better and it’s appropriate that Accent have retained some of the well-earned applause.

Lightest of all in this aria is Emma Kirkby. Ably assisted by Roy Goodman and the Brandenburg Consort, who preface the aria with an account of the overture, she makes me wish they had recorded the whole opera. My copy of the Hyperion 3-CD set on which Emma Kirkby sings Handel Arias (review) not being immediately to hand – it’s somewhere at the back of the drawer – I downloaded it in lossless sound, with pdf booklet, from hyperion-records.co.uk. The CDs are now available only from the Archive Service, but the download can be yours for a very reasonable £15. If you didn’t take my advice before, go for it now, even if this is the first time that you have downloaded. Only one CD of the set, CDA67128, remains available on disc, but that’s the one which contains the Lotario excerpts

In Menti eterne (CD2, track 5) it’s again Lys who stresses our sympathy for Adelaide, while Mingardo’s is the more impressive account of the aria. Both employ a degree of vibrato to which purists may object, but I didn’t.

In Sommo rettor … D’una turbida (CD2, tracks 12-13), there’s competition from Renée Fleming in a collection of Handel arias released in 2004 (Decca 4756422, with OAE and Harry Bickett, download only – review of SACD release, no longer available). Taken out of context, Fleming sounds very imposing here, showing off her voice very well as part of an attractive recital, but it’s Lys in context whom I would choose.

As is often the case, the devil – in this case the she-devil Matilde – gets some of the best tunes. On the Oehms highlights CD, Annette Markert is very impressive in the defiant Impara, codardo (Act III). Ursula Hesse von den Steinen may not quite match her in haughtiness (CD3, track 14) but she comes very close and she benefits from a slightly more pointed accompaniment. Be warned, however, that there’s an almighty crash in this aria, enough to put off some potential purchasers.

Berengario’s big moment comes in Act II with the aria Vi sento (CD3, track 5). Like von den Steinen as Matilde, he makes the male bad guy sound almost sympathetic.

Idelberto is the most altruistic character in the opera, but he must not be allowed to sound wimpish and I’m not sure that Jud Perry quite manages the impossible in S’è diletto (CD3, track 16). Hilary Summers for Curtis manages rather better in an abridged version of this aria, but Perry sounds like a counter-tenor to watch out for. Todd Boyce as Clodomiro rounds off a strong cast.

I’ve mentioned the high quality of the accompaniment, evident from the start in the overture, where the oboists merit particular praise. Laurence Cummings is an accomplished Handel director and that shows to great advantage here. Roy Goodman on the Emma Kirkby set mentioned above takes the opening of the overture more deliberately. The Brandenburg Consort play well for him and all Handelians should have at least the single CD, if not the 3-disc set, but I prefer Cummings’ idea of the tempo. From the overture to the final chorus is a leap akin to Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod but I mention the latter (CD3, track 21) as an example of the chorus in action.

Inevitably with a live recording there is a certain amount of stage noise – some of it more noticeable in audio only than it would have been on DVD or blu-ray – but there is not too much of it, and it is worth tolerating for the quality of the performance. There’s a certain amount of creaking in Rammentati, cor mio but it didn’t prevent me from enjoying this aria – but try Matilde’s aria on CD 3, mentioned above, one of the worst examples, to see if you can tolerate it. Otherwise the recording is good.

As with the Curtis recording, the English translation is taken from the 1729 programme, which annoyed Robert Hugill. Though no friend of eighteenth-century literature – easily my worst paper in finals – I was less distracted by this.

If you prefer your Handel short and sweet and dislike stage noises, the Curtis recordings is still well worth having, though you will have to download it and do without a booklet. You won’t even have the synopsis that came with the 22-CD set, but there are plenty of alternatives online. All in all, however, my vote goes to the new recording.

Lotario is never going to be Handel’s best-known opera but, like Agrippina, also recorded by Cummings and his team, with different soloists, at the Göttingen Festival (ACC26404 – review), it comes over well in the new recording. For Agrippina there are serious alternatives but nothing else challenges this Lotario for completeness.

Brian Wilson

 

 




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