If the "discovery" was not all it was cracked up to be by the headlines, there was genuine interest when, earlier this year, Professor Hans Joachim Marx pronounced that a manuscript in the library of London's Royal Academy of Music was echt-Handel. Since then, there has been a rush to record his Gloria: BIS got there first, with the soloist Emma Kirkby.
Last Tuesday the English Bach Festival brought the 15-minute piece to London. Nich-olas Cleobury conducted the tiny orchestra of strings, augmented by harpsichord in the bright fast movements, chamber organ in the graceful slow ones. The soloist was Patricia Rozario, sometimes lacking Kirkby's pinpoint precision but more sensuous. If the scholars are right, Handel was barely 20 when he wrote the Gloria around 1706/7, and its youthful exuberance is captivating. The vocal line is baroquerie at its most fantasticated, making the da capo arias of his operas sound models of restraint; and the interplay between violins and voice is enchanting. If Rozario didn't make it sound easy, she found the vocal drama. A major find? Probably not, but a showpiece for those brave enough to tackle it.
To follow, the EBF's production of Handel's Acis and Galatea. With added oboes and recorders, Cleobury's orchestra still numbered only 10. Sarah Cremer and Christopher Tudor's production was equally slimline, but to less effect. Shifting from whimsy to gal-umphing humour to pathos, Acis and Galatea is oddly modern, but the EBF encased it in what passes for authenticity: ancient Greek costumes, bar-oque dances, stylised movement. On a big budget, it might amount to spectacle; here it was merely etiolated.
Things perked up with the arrival of the giant Polyphemus, a role which Graeme Broadbent grabbed with both hands and a Yorkshire accent. He breathed life into the production. The opera's climax, when Galatea turns dead Acis into a purling stream, became all the more moving. As Acis, Agustin Prunell-Friend was ardent if strained, but Charlotte Page was an ingratiating Galatea.
A few days earlier, Jonathan Miller's production of Handel's Tamerlano reached Sadler's Wells; or at least, sets and costumes did. Of production there was little trace: the singers were left to their own devices. Thomas Randle invested the role of Bajazet with overblown anguish, but baroque opera is not what his voice is for. It was left to the women to provide vocal beauty: Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz a sumptuous Asteria, Anna Bonitatibus rich and warm as Irene. Dressed in Judy Levin's vibrant costumes, everyone looked ready for action, and Trevor Pinnock directed a carefully paced reading that might have taken off if Miller had known where to find the drama in opera seria.
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