United States Handel, La resurrezione, Soloists and Juilliard415, William Christie (conductor), Alice Tully, Hall, Lincoln Center, New York 8.12.2014 (SSM)
Singer preparation: William Hobbs, Kenneth Merrill and David Moody
Orchestra preparation: Robert Mealy
Dramatic consultant: David Paul
Handel’s most productive stay in Rome, which he visited several times, was in 1707 and 1708. His oratorios Il trionfo del Tempo e dell Disiganno and La resurrezione were written in Rome at the tail end of the papal ban on staged productions, which started in 1698 and ended in 1710. Going underground has always been the way repressed groups keep the flames lit. The resistance to this papal ban came from the last group one would have expected: the Cardinals living in Rome. Several of the wealthiest Cardinals as well as the secular Marquis Rispoli avoided gaudy stage productions but had no difficulty mounting “sacred” musical events. It seemed sufficient just to call a work a cantata or oratorio to get around the ban. Handel wrote about 80 of these works, but there is nothing in them that comes even close to the word “sacred” as it is used to describe Bach’s cantatas. No “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen” here. Instead we have “Delirio Amoroso” or “n’ alma inamorata.” Handel’s texts were often from Greek mythology and did not suppress any of the more earthly themes. He did write some real operas during his stay, but they were performed in other Italian cities such as Florence and Naples.
La resurrezione is the exception: it does in fact have a sacred text, one appropriate to Easter, covering as it does the period after Jesus is crucified and following Maria Maddalena and Maria Cleofe through the Resurrection. It’s just as well that Handel didn’t try to develop an opera out of his material; its thin plot couldn’t support the weak text. We get no real differentiation or development of the characters as we do in a much later Handel oratorio, Theodora.
From a musical point of view, Handel’s compostional skills were in full use even at the early age of 22. From the very beginning of La Resurrezione, we are in the hands of an accomplished composer. The early measures of the overture contain conversations that require brief but difficult solo work from the violin and cello. This was tough going for the orchestra members, but Christie wasn’t going to slow down. The opening aria, “Disserratevi,” sung by Liv Redpath, is filled with runs up and down the scale, and then asks the soprano to hold a high A for several measures. The passages where the oboe doubled the soprano’s florid melismas demanded great technique on the part of both the soprano and oboist David Dickey. Aside from a little jitteriness, both showed they had it. Redpath’s clear and smooth voice needs only a little more depth and maturity, and she should be ready for anything that is asked of her.
Reminiscent of the character of Polyphemus in Handel’s Acis and Galatea, baritone Elliott Carlton Hines provided the proper depth for Lucifer who is dispatched to Hades but not until he has expressed his anger at heaven in a well-honed and somber “Ahi, abborito nome.” Avery Amereau’s distinctive mezzo in “Piangete, si Piangete” expressed her lamentation in words and song that could have come from a Bach Passion. Nathan Haller impressed with a touching “Caro figlio,” a precursor to Handel’s more famous “Cara,” “Cara Sposa” from Rinaldo. Mary Feminear sang exceptionally well throughout, and especially in a heartfelt “Ferma l’ali.”
William Christie still seems unable to do any wrong. The early nervousness of the musicians faded away mostly, I suspect, through the unconditional approval and acceptance of the conductor. I hope the recent financial cuts made by the French cities that have supported Christie as well as Minkowski will think twice about what they could lose. These groups should be given the same certainty and status as the French government gives to the upkeep and support of buildings that have historical importance. The musicians are a national treasure as well.