Monday, 18 February 2013

Notes on Almira

Almira, Königin von Castilien [Der in Kronen erlangte Glücks-Wechsel, oder: Almira Königin von Castilien] [8th January, 1705, Hamburg, Theater am Gänsemarkt]

[References are to the following recording of the opera –
Ann Monoyios; Patricia Rozario; Linda Gerrard; David
Thomas; Douglas Nasrawi; Jamie MacDougall; Olaf Haye;
Christian Elsner; Fiori musicali; Andrew Lawrence-King
Radio Bremen CPO 999 275-2]

[The system of asterisks reflects the author’s appreciation of
the arias, etc – * = noteworthy; ** = excellent; *** = outstanding.]

[References to ‘D&K’ are to Winton Dean and John Merrill Knapp’s Handel’s Operas 1704-1726 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995).]


Act I
‘Almire regiere’ (**) [Disk 1; track 2] – an early variant of ‘Vanne in campo’ from Roderigo
Sarabande (***) [Disk 1; track 4] – an early instrumental anticipation of ‘Lascia ch'io pianga’ from Rinaldo
‘Schönste Rosen’ (**) [Disk 1; track 10]
‘Liebliche Wälder’ (**) [Disk 1; track 14]
‘Geloso tormento’ (***) [Disk 1; track 18] [‘The contrasted dynamics of the ritornello, a dialogue for solo oboe and strings with alternate piano and forte bars, establish a tension that is not permitted to relax’, D&K]

Act II
‘Chi sa, mia spema’ (**) [Disk 2; track 4] - later adapted as ‘Barbaro fato’ in Partenope
‘Mi da speranza al core’ (**) [Disk 2; track 13]
‘Move i passi a le ruine’ (***) [Disk 2; track 15] – adapted for Agrippina, but also used again in a range of works, including Radamisto, Orlando and Acis and Galatea
‘Sonera la piaga’ (**) [Disk 2; track 18]
‘Der Himmel wird strafen’ (**)[Disk 2; track 20]

‘Quilt, ihr überhäuften Zähren’ (**) [Disk 3; track 5]
‘Vedrai, s’a tuo dispetto’ (***) [Disk 3; track 12] [D&K refer to ‘the sudden pause on a diminished seventh on the word ‘crudele’ as an ‘effective use of cliché’]
‘Kachet ihr Adern’ (**) [Disk 3; track 14]
‘Werthe Schrift’ (**) [Disk 3; track 16]

Handel’s first opera is at times a kind of work-book for the later operas, with a number of arias and other material appearing (with variations) again in Rodrigo, Agrippina, Rinaldo, Radamisto, Giulio Cesare, Partenope, Orlando, and Giustino. The use of variations on the theme of ‘Lascia ch'io pianga’ (twice, as sarabandes in Acts I and II) is a typical example. It’s an odd opera – Hamburg obviously did not object to the macaronic combination of German and Italian. At times it’s more opera buffa than opera seria. The accompaniment often suggests a chamber opera (the bassoon featuring particularly to confirm the comic aspect), but the main element of farce is in the characterisation of the servant Tabarco [given as ‘Fabarco’ in Deutsch’s Documentary Biography, p.15]. He is clearly a type, deriving (according to D&K) from the Venetian tradition, but echoing and anticipating all such operatic comic types (including Mozart’s later equivalents): his speech is idiomatic; he provides a sardonic commentary on the main action; he runs about stage; falls over; pries into the secrets of his betters; complains about his ailments and his treatment; etc. It’s interesting to see the beginning of Handel’s use of standard forms. The ‘da capo’ aria is not fully established here: for instance, the ‘ritornello’ sometimes acts as an instrumental coda to a one-section ‘cavatina’ aria (as if it forms a ‘B’ section, without da capo). There is a striking early use of dramatic accompagnato, in three sections, most impressively as Almira expresses her love-anguish (‘Ich kann nicht mehr’) before her Italian complaint ‘Move i passi’ – oddly, the combination of German and Italian, here, is most effective. Only an imperfect copy of the original score survives, thanks probably to a later production by Telemann.

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