in: Reviews

October 17, 2009

Handel Opera Saved by Gorgeous Arias

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In its season opener in Jordan Hall on October 16, Boston Baroque presented the Boston premiere of an early London opera, Amadigi di Gaula, by Handel. Paul Peers directed an excellent cast of young singers. Presiding over it all was Martin Pearlman, who founded Boston Baroque (then Banchetto Musicale) in 1973; he led his superb band (featuring two harpsichords!) in a near-capacity house.

Like many operas, the story and the libretto is silly and stock pieces abound, but the music is on a very high level. Just when you thought that this opera would never end after more than two hours, Handel would throw another gorgeous aria at you, and all would be forgiven. In his program notes, Pearlman quoted the English 18th-century historian Charles Burney to the effect that there is more good music here than in many Handel musical dramas.

The knight Amadigi (Leah Wool) is in love with Oriana (Mary Wilson), who is also pursued by a prince of Thrace, Dardano (Matthew White, singing countertenor). Casting her magic spells is Melissa (Ava Pine), who is also in love with Amadigi. Performing in modern dress, this cast is somewhat sonically compromised by the uniform treble voices usually singing alone, not to speak of the fact that in the baroque period there is no character development in arias. We had to wait until the very end when the comprimarios (Ulysses Thomas and Edward Whalen) removed their masks and joined in the jubilation.

When Oriana completed her aria at the end of Act II, I said to myself that the opera should have ended here. But then we would have missed Melissa’s suicide, Dardano’s Underworld aria (sung from the balcony, a nice touch) and the quintet at the end.

The opera’s repeat performance is tonight at 7:30.

Larry Phillips studied music at Harvard, the Montreal Conservatory, and at New England Conservatory. In 1974 he was a prizewinner at the International Harpsichord Competition in Bruges, Belgium.

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