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<<  -- 3 --  Wilfrid Mellers    SECOND SIGHT


This is evident in the pretend-godly status of the plutocratic hero himself. He is allotted only four arias, though since they progressively admit to the vanity of human wishes they provide a framework of potent intensity for the action, in tempi which inexorably slow down. Against Croeseus's self-enquiring monologues, the comic-servant protagonists sing simple strophic pop-songs rather than arias, while the complicated patterns woven by the five assorted lovers embrace, with impressive technical assurance, a variety of manners ranging from grandly heroic Italian aria to sentimentally lyric French ariette, to an anticipatorily Austrian (Mozartian) fusion of lyricism with drama. All this in an opera dating from 1710-11; though this performance uses Keiser's revision of 1730, which (twenty years on) deliberately modified the original to conform with contemporary taste.

In Handel's Silla the hero is an anti-hero, a tyrant of deepest dye. In Croesus the hero is not wicked but merely stupid and -- the libretto suggests -- unfortunate in being rich to the point of folly. In Silla enlightened optimism entails the tyrant's last-minute repentance which we can take, if at all, only because of Handel's music. In Croesus the encroachingly powerful pathos of the hero's arias enacts the rich man's awakening to his spiritual poverty, affecting not only his own destiny but also that of the principal characters. This applies even, or especially, to the villain, the tyrant-rival Cyrus King of Persia who, envious of Croesus's fabled wealth, attacks his realm.

It also assaults Croesus's son Atys who, though literally dumb, is in love with and loved by Elmira, radiant Princess of Media. When Croesus is on the point of being slain in battle by Cyrus, Atys, presumably through shock-therapy, recovers his speech -- which may possibly hint that we need to suffer in order humanly to communicate. But Croesus is taken prisoner, and is condemned by Cyrus to death at the stake. Atys, also a prisoner and disguised as a peasant, is dispatched as a propitiatory present-slave to the beauteous Elmira, who thinks she recognises him through his disguise, but can't believe in his flesh-and-blood reality since he can now speak.

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Copyright © 14 April 2001 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK







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