A classic work of its genre and historical period, Artaserse was premièred in Venice in 1730 by the most famous singers of the day: Farinelli in the role of Arbace, Cuzzoni as Mandane and the castrato Nicolino as Artabano. Following its initial success, Hasse produced two different versions of the work, the first in 1740 and the second in 1760. This world première recording is based on the original Venice version. The exceptional cast features countertenor Franco Fagioli in the role originally taken by Farinelli, his stunning technique making light of the 3-octave range with uniform timbre, remarkable power and striking resonance. Equally memorable is the aria “Pallido sole” sung by Sonia Prina.
As with the majority of Handel’s stage works, Rodelinda is composed in a purely Italian style. The libretto was adapted by Nicola Haym from a previous version by Antonio Salvi. In line with the norms for Italian opera, it consists of solo da capo arias interspersed with secco recitatives and, occasionally, with accompanied ones. The undoubted protagonist of the opera is Rodelinda, for whom the composer wrote eight of the original score’s thirty-two numbers, as well as the duet with Bertarido. Rodelinda’s characterisation is a masterpiece of psychological and musical insight, beginning with the entrance aria, Ho perduto il caro sposo. This is a doleful piece, rich in expressive chromaticism and almost completely devoid of coloratura passages, in which the Lombard queen appears prey to the deepest dejection. No less brilliant and persuasive is the musical characterisation of the exiled king Bertarido, whose courage is, unusually, extolled more in recitatives than in arias. Bertarido is entrusted with the beautiful accompanied recitative in Act One, Pompe vane di morte, one the finest and most moving passages of the entire opera, which introduces the melancholy aria Dove sei, amato bene. The other characters also make significant contributions to the interest and value of this production.
Authoritative and comprehensive, this 55CD set presents a unique period in human history: a period when brilliant recorded sound on LP & CD, plus radio, TV, film and live all combined to offer huge new opportunities for singers, record labels and producers to expand the audience for classical music.