- Performer: Maria Bayo, Maria Riccarda Wesseling, Sharon Rostorf-Zamir, Kobie van Rensburg, Max Emanuel Cencic, et al.
- Orchestra: Al Ayre Espanol
- Conductor: Eduardo Lopez Banzo
- Composer: George Frideric Handel
- Audio CD (April 28, 2009)
- SPARS Code: DDD
- Number of Discs: 3
- Label: Alliance
- ASIN: B000V7UMQ4
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #273,655 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
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Rodrigo is Handel's fifth opera. His first four operas were written for Hamburg. Almira, the first of them, survives, but Nero, Florindo, and Dafne are almost completely lost. Rodrigo, first performed in the autumn of 1707 (exact date unknown), shows a great advance on Almira after Handel had spent less than a year in Italy; his mature style is already evident.
The first recording of Rodrigo on CD was released in 1999. It is conducted by Alan Curtis and is one of the best of his series of Handel opera recordings. In the pivotal roles of Rodrigo and Esilena, Gloria Banditelli and Sandrine Piau lead a cast without any weak member. Curtis provides strong leadership, with well-chosen tempos, and Il Complesso Barocco provides expert accompaniment, with no unnecessary roughness in sound.
Eduardo López Banzo leads a recording that can be considered a worthwhile alternative to the Curtis recording. His cast is also very strong and fully up to the demands of Handel's music. The Rodrigo and Esilena, Maria Riccarda Wesseling and María Bayo, make a strong impression in their roles without, however, quite reaching the heights achieved by Banditelli and Piau for Curtis. To give one example, in "Per dar pregio," the aria for Esilena that ends act I, the soprano has a long held note over which a solo violin (with occasional orchestral support) weaves a series of 16th-note triplets. While Bayo barely makes it to the end without having to take a breath, Piau has the breath control to increase the sound of the held note toward the end and end strongly. Both of the tenors singing Giuliano are very good technically, though I prefer Kobie van Rensburg's open and ringing voice to the darker voice of Rufus Müller for Curtis. For Fernando, originally an alto castrato, Curtis's Caterina Calvi has a more attractive voice than López Banzo's countertenor, Max Emanuel Cencic. Florinda and Evanco are equally well sung on the two recordings.
López Banzo generally paces the opera well, although in a few places he sets a tempo so fast that the singer has to scurry to keep up. Al Ayre Español, which López Banzo founded, plays very well, although the strings have a rougher sound that those of Curtis's Il Complesso Barocco.
A recently discovered copy of the wordbook issued for the first performance shows that Handel's autograph score was greatly changed before the first performance. The surviving score of Rodrigo contains six arias that were deleted and replaced by six arias now lost. Many lines of recitative set by Handel were cut before the performance. Both recordings generally follow Handel's cuts in recitative, although Curtis cuts a few lines more than López Banzo. Virgin's booklet prints all of the cut recitative, while Naïve's gives only what is sung.
A couple of aspects of both performances bother me a great deal. Both conductors include two theorbos in their orchestral forces, and both conductors misuse these instruments in continuo. The theorbo invades the baseline of recitatives and often replaces the harpsichord, and sometimes replaces both harpsichord and cello. López Banzo sometimes accompanies recitatives with solo harpsichord. Similar mistakes are made in arias. Occasionally, Handel's vocal line is ruined in da capo by unidiomatic recomposition instead of ornamentation.
Rodrigo is an opera well worth hearing, and we are fortunate to have two strong recordings from which to choose. Virgin managed to fit Curtis's recording onto two well-filled discs. Naïve's recording, a couple of minutes longer than Curtis's, is spread over three mid-priced CDs. I could be happy with either but would give Curtis the preference because of the presence of Banditelli and Piau. -- Fanfare, Ron Salemi, Nov/Dec 2009