It’s been a long wait for a recording of Lotario and now, like a London bus, two come at once. Or perhaps one and a half. Well, not quite that, even: for as Alan Curtis explains in his note to the ‘complete’ one the opera is too long for two CDs and rather than run to a third he chose (wisely) to make some discreet cuts. The excerpt disc includes 11 of the 25 arias.
Lotario has never had a very good press. Handel’s first opera for the ‘Second Royal Academy’, after an initial run of 10 performances in 1729 it slipped into oblivion for more than two centuries. It wasn’t an ‘unmitigated flop’, as the curious note here says. There aren’t many stunning individual numbers, but there are several spirited and reflecrtive ones of great beauty – the closing number of Act 2, for example, for Lotario himself, encloses an expression of hope in a moment of despair which, with its rich fabric of string accompaniment, turns out to be truly moving in a manner unique to Handel. And Adelaide, the queen, sings her defiance vigorously in the brilliant aria that ends Act 1. There are some relatively bland arias, too, but there is plenty of character in the music assigned to the villainess of the piece, the usurping queen Matilde, whose scheming is ultimately overturned by her virtuous son Idelberto.
Alan Curtis adds to his Handelian laurels with a performance that presents the opera in a lively and unpretentious fashion. With his small band and rather detached, over-articulated style, Lotario seems less robust, a little cooler, than it might ideally be.
The role of Adelaide was Handel’s first for Strada, one of his stalwarts. Simone Kermes sings it very musically, with an attractive glitter to the voice and much refined detail. A bigger manner, and indeed a bigger voice, would not have been out of place in the aria that ends Act 1, but she throws it off convincingly. As her rival, Matilde, the contralto Sonia Prina can sing gracefully and forcefully and her articulation of the rapid runs in her sombre F minor aria in Act 2 is a model.
The castrato role of Lotario is taken by Sara Mingardo in accomplished fashion, with a firmly focused tone (if a hint of tremor, not quite vibrato), a clean, strongly rhythmic style, and with real passion and expressive warmth. Hilary Summers’s Idelberto, is carefully done if sometimes a shade plummy. Steve Davislim’s Berengario is sturdily declaimed. For Clodomiro, the inevitable general, Handel provided what he called a bass part but we would call a baritone, and quite a high one; Vito Priante brings to it something different from, and subtler than, the usual blustery Handel bass.
The disc of excerpts recorded at last year’s Halle Handel Festival is even more compelling. Paul Goodwin brings more grandeur to the overture (which has an unusual and particularly interesting fast section), and is readier to allow the arias their due weight. He is helped by an outstanding team of singers. Lawrence Zazzo, the countertenor Lotario, shows keen awareness of the words and excellent articulation and shaping. Nuria Rial matches him in Adelaide’s music with her glowing soprano, her crystalline runs and her commanding manner. Annette Markert does well in two of Matilde’s arias, Andreas Karasiak shows a graceful tenor in one of Berengario’s and both of Clodomiro’s are fluently done by Huub Claessens. I would rather this group had recorded the entire opera: as it is, there is no choice but to commend both recordings to the Handelian. The Deutsche Harmonia Mundi recording is slightly bass-heavy, the Oehms a little too resonant. Gramophone