AN 2 2004

Handel: Arias and Dances, Excerpts from Agrippina and Alcina

Release date September 16, 2008
Album code AN 2 2004
Periods Baroque

Album information

Handel was first and foremost a composer of opera. It was his passion for opera which first led him away from his homeland to Italy. Handel soon became the darling of Italian opera lovers, and ended his three-year sojourn with a triumphant production of his opera Agrippina in Venice in 1709. It ran for an unprecedented 27 nights.

The plot revolves around Agrippina, wife of the Emperor Claudius, and her determination to secure the throne for her son Nero. The other female role in the opera is Poppea, a coy young beauty who is at the centre of several romantic intrigues. The selection of arias for this recording opens with an aria sung by Agrippina to Poppea, “Non hò cor che per amarti.” Agrippina has tricked Poppea into believing that her lover, Ottone, has forsaken her. The irony of the text of this aria is evident in the unusually angular accompaniment. Agrippina’s aria “Ogni vento” closes Act II: after many difficulties Agrippina believes that she has finally accomplished her goal. The aria “Vaghe perle” is Poppea’s opening aria, sung as she gazes into her mirror: she is desired by Ottone, Claudio and Nerone and radiates confidence and delight. The aria “Se giunge un dispetto” is sung by Poppea upon being convinced by Agrippina that her one true love, Ottone, has forsaken her for the throne. To these arias we have added dances from the ballet which is thought to have been performed at the end of Agrippina.

Following the great success of Agrippina, Handel left to make his mark in London. For over 20 years Handel regaled London audiences with a steady stream of opera productions at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket. By the 1730’s, the passion for opera was starting to wane. The public was intrigued by the new English oratorio, and Handel met a further challenge with the formation of a second opera company: in 1734 the Nobility Opera took over the Haymarket Theatre. The impresario John Rich came to his rescue, offering him the use of his newly-built theatre at Covent Garden for two nights each week. The theatre was wonderfully well equipped, with a large stage and lavish stage machinery. Handel was inspired to produce five operas, the last of which, Alcina, opened at Covent Garden on April 16, 1735 and ran successfully until July 2.

Alcina is a “magical” opera, resplendent with supernatural effects. Alcina herself is a sorceress who entices people to her magic island and transforms them into trees, animals or stones. Her most recent captive is Ruggiero, who has thus far been spared the fate of his predecessors because Alcina has fallen in love with him. Ruggiero’s fiancée Bradamante, disguised as her own brother Ricciardo, is shipwrecked on the island, and is the object of affection of Alcina’s sister, Morgana. Various intrigues embellish the plot, but at the heart of the story is Alcina’s ruin. Alcina’s first aria, “Di, cor mio,” is confident and assured, as she displays the delights of her idyllic island and of her love for Ruggiero to the newly arrived Ricciardo. The delightful aria “Tornami” is sung by Morgana to Ricciardo. The short bravura aria “Barbara” is sung by Oberto, a youth who has come to the island in search of his father, one of Alcina’s captives. The final two arias are sung by Alcina as she begins to lose her magical powers. To these arias is added a selection of the dances written to display the talents of Marie Sallé, the foremost dancer of her generation.

© Charlotte Nediger

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