Handel’s La Resurrezione:Not Secular Enough

SpainSpain Handel: La Resurrezione, Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, René Jacobs (conductor), Madrid Auditorium, 6.3.2014 (JMI)

Concert Version

Maria Maddalena: Sophie Karthäuser
Angelo: Sunhae Im
Cleofe: Sonia Prina
San Giovanni: Jeremy Ovenden
Lucifero: Johannes Weisser

The National Center for Diffusion of Music (CNDM) continues to offer a very interesting program  ̶  particularly the cycle Baroque Universe  ̶  with excellent conductors, orchestras and soloists. A few weeks ago it was Marc Minkowski who captured the attention of opera lovers with Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, and now it’s the turn of another famous conductor, René Jacobs, with this little-known opera-oratorio by the young Handel.

 La Resurrezione belongs to Handel’s Italian years and had its premiere in Rome on Easter 1708 in a private performance. In those years the Popes had banned stage performances (I guess these were considered sinful), and oratorios were the answer to the ban on operas. However, La Resurrezione was presented in a full stage version at the palace of Prince Ruspoli, whose transgression did not end there: the character of Maria Maddalena was sung by a soprano against the rules of the Pope, who insisted on having castrati perform these roles. It goes without saying that both the Prince and the composer were severely reprimanded by the Pope.

 The action takes place between Good Friday and Easter Sunday and faithfully follows the Gospel except for the addition of the character of Lucifer. It is a work in which one can find here and there the inspired Handel, always able to surprise the audience with his arias. Still, the musical quality of the young Handel cannot be compared with the truly exceptional height he reached some years later .

This is not a work that can succeed without an exceptional conductor, and I think we are lucky to be living in a time when Baroque music is probably better served than ever before. The proliferation of magnificent orchestras and exceptional conductors is an incontestable fact, as is their desire to offer less familiar works to music lovers. René Jacobs was responsible for this concert version of La Resurrezione: expectations were very high and the result did not disappoint. As he has proved many times, Mr. Jacobs is a great artist and he gave us a remarkable version of the work which the audience truly enjoyed. To his conducting should be added an outstanding orchestra, Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, and a group of soloists who were responsive to the demands of the score.

The most important character in the work is Mary Magdalene, sung here by Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser, who offered her attractive timbre. She sang with gusto and was an excellent interpreter.

Korean soprano Sunhae Im as the Angel was also excellent. She is a light soprano with a rather small but perfectly projected voice and an exceptional coloratura.

Sonia Prina was Mary of Cleophas, and she met the audience’s expectations. This role is not as important as others she has sung, but she did a really good job with it.

Tenor Jeremy Ovenden was well-suited to Saint John. I found his voice had more weight than a few years back, and he continues to be a very sensitive singer.

Johannes Weisser was Lucifer, and he offered the least convincing performance of the cast. I found him a little coarse, but I may have been influenced by the memories I have of Luca Pisaroni singing the same role five years ago .

José Mª. Irurzun