HANDEL Giove in Argo (Jupiter in Argos)
During the 1730s Handel baked three pasticci compiled from his own compositions: Oreste (1734) and Alessandro Severo (1738) were designed within the context of fully fledged opera seasons, whereas the lighter-hearted pastoral Giove in Argo (1739) was the only operatic entertainment he produced at the end of a season that otherwise consisted of oratorios and unstaged concerts, including the premieres of Saul and Israel in Egypt. He used an old libretto of an opera by Lotti he saw in Dresden 20 years earlier, based loosely on Ovid’s tales of Jupiter’s amorous affairs with two mortal women, Calisto and Io (here renamed Isis). The music was cleverly adapted from 12 various works (written 1712 38); he also composed 12 new numbers and inserted two ‘luggage’ arias by Francesco Araja – probably at the request of Constanza Posterla. Performed only twice, the scattered surviving sources had to be painstakingly pieced together by John Roberts for a new critical edition.
Alan Curtis’s recording has languished in the vaults since 2010. Il Complesso Barocco’s instrumentalists seem enthusiastically engaged in the opera’s affectionate playfulness: jovial horns feature in an overture taken from the May 1734 version of Il pastor fido and string ritornellos sound easy and characterful, with a few tastefully applied imaginative touches (eg Jupiter’s ‘Semplicetto! a donna credi?’). The disguised Jupiter’s instant infatuation upon seeing the sleeping Iside (‘Deh! v’aprite, o luci belle’) is suavely characterised by Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani. Act 2 climaxes with Ann Hallenberg’s immaculately sung mad scene for the beleaguered Isis but Karina Gauvin’s Calisto repeatedly steals the show with an extrovert ‘Lascia la spina’ (not the famous 1707 forebear of ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ but an entirely different setting), relaxed ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’, brilliantly florid ‘Combattuta da più venti’ (from Faramondo) and an eloquent lament when condemned to death for breaking her vows to Diana (‘Ah! non son io che parlo’ from Ezio). A patchy alternative reconstruction was issued by Musicaphon in 2007 but Curtis’s endearing performance sheds important new light on the closing stages of Handel’s operatic career.