Hercules reborn! Rolando Villazón and Joyce DiDonato lead a dazzling cast in Vivaldi’s opera Ercole sul’Termodonte, first heard in Rome in 1723 and reconstructed by conductor Fabio Biondi from the original libretto, historical scores and his intimate knowledge of the composer.
With over 30 of Handel’s operas awaiting a first CD recording, it seems indecent luxury to find two splendid new recordings of Ottone, a work in the vanguard of the German Handel opera revival in the 1920s, but long since relegated to obscurity. Both benefit immensely by being based on stage performances, Nicholas McGegan’s from the Göttingen Handel Festival, of which he is artistic director, Robert King’s from a production that successfully toured the UK and Japan. Broadly speaking, McGegan’s reading is distinguished by a compelling sense of drama and a wonderful feeling for Handelian style, sometimes at the expense of tonal beauty; King’s is smoother, occasionally letting the dramatic impetus flag, but offering playing of consistent strength and fine shading. McGegan, however, fields the marginally more convincing team of singers, led by Drew Minter, whose pure bright tone, breathtaking coloratura and ardent delivery give pleasure at every hearing; Bowman, for King, sings with sensitivity but his mannered tone and technical limitations are serious drawbacks. Conversely, Dominique Visse, for King, with his inimitable reedy timbre and impeccable musicianship, is matchless as Ottone’s rival in kingship, Adelberto, fine as Ralf Popken is for McGegan. Of the female roles, Claron McFadden produces a stream of radiant tone as Teofane; but so does Lisa Saffer, who, in addition, offers a wider range of colour. Both sets are recommendable, but Minter’s charismatic performance, Saffer’s deeper perceptions and the inclusion of arias Handel wrote for later revivals tip the balance in favour of McGegan. Whatever your choice, it’s an opera not to be missed. (Antony Bye)