Amor e Gelosia - Ciofi/DiDonato
Handel always had a wonderful feeling for the human voice, and more than doubly wonderful when it comes to two of them. The duets in his operas are the special treats, coming at climactic points – most often, two lovers’ supposedly final parting, or their ultimate reunion. The dissonances that so poignantly convey the lovers’ grief, the echoes with subtle inflections in sense, the way one voice floats free while the other remains captive, the mellifluous thirds and sixths – all these, and much more, make for some of the most emotional music, some searingly so, some balm-laden, that Handel (or anyone else) ever wrote.
Try ‘Io t’abbraccio’, from Rodelinda, or ‘Per la porte del tormento’ from Sosarme, which is certainly one of my desert-island pieces. We have several pieces from Poro, first the intense little love duet in Act 2, and later the two arias in which Poro and Cleofide swear eternal fidelity – which they fling back at each other when, in a duet we also hear, both believe themselves betrayed. Then there is the delightful little minor-key duet from Faramondo (quite a rarity among Handel’s operas), the quarrel duet from Atalanta, the charmingly playful piece from Muzio Scevola (even more of a rarity), and the extraordinary one for the pleading Angelica and the furious, maddened Orlando. Handel’s understanding of the shades and the accents of love are something to marvel at.
All are most beautifully sung by Patrizia Ciofi and Joyce DiDonato, who has just the right firmness and focus for a castrato role (as the mezzo voices almost always are here); both phrase beautifully, and articulate and express the words so clearly and so tellingly. They ornament the da capo sections in a natural and tasteful fashion. The accompaniments, done by a chamber group under Alan Curtis with much refined timing of detail, add to the pleasures of this truly delectable CD. Indeed, listening to it is a bit like eating a meal of delicious puddings.