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“Handel in Italy”

Dixit Dominus;
La terra a liberate;
Armida abbandonata;
Alpestre monte;
O Numi eterni!;
Notte placido e cheta;
Agrippina condotta a morire


Classical Opera Company/Ian Page

Kings Place, London

02 & 04 December 2009

The Classical Opera Company were back in residence at Kings Place, this time offering an insight into the music composed during Handel’s years in Italy (1706-09). 


Handel was a young man of 22 when he first arrived in Florence.  Here, and in Rome, he was able to hear the masterpieces of the foremost musicians of the day: composers such as Albinoni, Corelli, Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, and Vivaldi, and he was able to meet many of them.  Their influence is apparent in Handel’s work of the period, and yet we can also find seeds of the individual voice of London’s beloved Handel – a fascinating glimpse of a composer emerging from his chrysalis.


These relatively short pieces fit well into the format of Kings Place programming and throughout translations were provided on giant surtitles. 


Dixit Dominus is one of the most ambitious of the Latin settings that Handel produced.  The Classical Opera Company had packed the stage with orchestral players and a choir of 15, all soloists in their own right, and a goodly sound they produced.  The short solo sections distributed amongst members of the chorus, and I was particularly impressed by contributions from the alto, Laura Kelly and bass David Shipley.


During his employment in the household of Francesco Ruspoli, Handel was expected to produce secular cantatas for weekly performance, (in much the same way as Bach would be contracted to produce sacred ones at Leipzig).  No less than six of these miniatures had been selected by The Classical Opera Company, and of these five were grouped together in a single evening “Handel’s Tragic Heroines”.   Mezzo soprano Sigridur Osk Kristjansdottir portrayed two of them, Armida and Lucretia, contrasting the characters with effective clarity.   As Agrippina soprano Laura Mitchell, stepping onto the stage with regal assurance and with voice to match, swept all before her.


Interspersed between the performances Martene Grimson and Ruby Hughes sang two of Handel’s gorgeous pastoral cantatas.  Try though they could, these seemed a little insipid compared the colourful ladies they separated.


La terra e liberate is not so much a cantata for two voices as a miniature opera.  With considerable skill, and not a little humour, Mary Bevan and Darren Jeffrey presented the legend of Apollo and Daphne – as good an entertainment today as it must have been in 1710!


Serena Fenwick