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Resurrecting La Resurrezione

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Handel, La Resurrezione, C. Tilling, K. Royal, S. Prina, T. Spence, L. Pisaroni, Le Concert d'Astrée, E. Haïm

Virgin Classics 694567 0 | 112'12"
Handel's first oratorio, La Resurrezione di Nostro Signor Gesù Cristo, is not unrecorded but remains fairly rare on disc and almost unheard in concert. It provides an informative look at the source material from which Handel created his particular kind of English oratorio many years later in London. In fact, the subject matter (if not the style of narrative presentation) makes this work the natural counterpoint to Messiah, another work intended for Easter time. The libretto by Carlo Sigismondo Capece, a member of the Accademia degli Arcadi, is a retelling of events described in the Gospels, as Lucifer howls in indignation to see the Harrowing of Hell and Mary Cleophas, Mary Magdalen, and John the Evangelist are apprised of the news of Christ's resurrection. The work was first performed on April 8, 1708 (Easter Sunday), in Rome's Palazzo Bonelli, a building rented by the Marchese Ruspoli. A wealthy man named Prince of Cerveteri by Pope Clement XI, Ruspoli hosted meetings of the Arcadian Academy and held Sunday afternoon conversazioni in his home, where Handel premiered a number of works. La Resurrezione was semi-staged, with a painted backdrop and lighting effects by Michelangelo Cerruti.

The playing of Le Concert d'Astrée, under the talented direction of Emmanuelle Haïm, remains impressive, even in this live recording, compiled over three days of performances at the Opéra de Lille, shortly after last Easter (April 15 to 18, 2009 -- some of the joins between sections from different days are perhaps too noticeable). The five soloists all sound beautiful, especially a butter-smooth Camilla Tilling as the Angel, Kate Royal more rough-hewn and intense as Maria Maddalena, and Luca Pisaroni suitably villainous and snarling as Lucifero. (The soloists sing together in the chorus numbers that end each half.) There are other worthy recordings of the work, especially those by Christopher Hogwood (Academy of Ancient Music, 1981) and Marc Minkowski (Les Musiciens du Louvre, 1995). Haïm's version is just as good as either of them and priced to move (2-CD set now reduced to $14.99).

David Vickers, in the informative liner essay, reports that Handel's orchestra was one of the largest the composer ever wrote for, with 21 violins (led by none other than Arcangelo Corelli!), 4 violas, 5 cellos, 5 double basses, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone (no part surviving), and 4 oboes. One might quibble that Haïm leads a rather different ensemble, fewer strings and adding flute, recorders, and bassoon. The work has to be adapted, however, since Handel used two castrati for the Angelo and Maria Cleofe at the first performance; his choice to have Margherita Durastanti sing Maria Maddalena, in spite of Clement XI's ban on women performing music in public, drew the anger of the pope the following morning, and a castrato was substituted for the second performance on Easter Monday. (You may recall that two arias from La Resurrezione concluded Cecilia Bartoli's album Opera proibita.) While Handel likely directed these performances from the harpsichord, some of the most pleasurable moments on this recording involve the gentle combination of voices with the organ and lute that fill out Haïm's continuo group.


Symphonic Voyages said...

What a wonderful review. Didn't know the history and your performance details compel me to search for the live recording. Thanks.

doug said...

Charles, This was an especially interesting review. I do love your blog! Happy New Year.

David Boxwell said...

What I hear:

Haim actually takes time to let the lyricism of Handel's meditative moments emerge (Minkowski drives it all too hard, as usual). Only Tilling's hectic opening aria suffers from overornamentation (it is just incoherent, and ahistorical to boot).

The sonority of the recording is wonderful: every line of the 22-year old genius's music is discernible. (Even Mozart at 22 wasn't composing on this level of melodic invention in his vocal works).

The only singer who mars the proceedings is Prina. She is way too ubiquitous on Baroque vocal sets these days, with her drab, quavery voice (the bottom is especially weak). No one has really done this part very well, in any case (Laurens for Koopman is substandard, as well; McGuire for Minkowski is probably the best of a shallow talent pool). Spence is lovely to hear, and Royal actually justifies the hype EMI has subjected her to.