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I was wondering when Giovanni Bononcini, Handel’s great rival in 1730s London, would get his moment in the sun. Prolific and fluent, in 1697 he moved from Italy to Vienna and thence to Berlin in 1702, where he produced the one-act opera Polifemo for the court of Sophia Charlotte (George I’s little sister). It’s a pretty action-packed version of the Acis and Galatea story, finding time for a love- triangle sub-plot for shepherd Glaucus, witch Circe and nymph Scylla – who has an unfortunate swimming accident where ‘her lower body is turned into dogs’. However this is a happy-ending story so the dog stuffgets fixed and even Acis brought back to life after that nasty brush with the rock.

It’s good stuff, too, lively, varied, dramatic and richly characterised – and performed with great imagination and verve by Dorothee Oberlinger and Ensemble 1700 in a live performance at Potsdam. There isn’t yet the freedom and variety of Handel’s aria styles, but this is far from dry or repetitive, with some exquisite continuo arias, a different instrumental texture for each character, excellently eccentric sound effects from the players, a really beautifully studied continuo cello, harpsichord and archlute, and withal a great energy and bounce. One aria, Circe’s ‘Pensiero di vendetta’, full of blistering coloratura, was a massive hit which Handel nicked in his usual manner and improved for Radamisto.

João Fernandes, a lovely basso cantante who brightened our shores for a while years ago as a Guildhall student, is the giant, as ridiculed here as he is by Handel (he gets very excited telling Galatea all about his livestock), and supported by a terrific cast: Helena Rasker as the dark-toned sentimentalist Glaucus, Roberta Mameli as flighty, virtuosic Silla, Roberta Invernizzi as characterful as ever as Galatea, and the extraordinary Bruno de Sá, as soprano Acis of astonishing purity and musicianship. It’s a fun, shortish, fast-moving piece, and not without its depths.

Robert Thicknesse Read the full review on Agora Classica


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