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<<  -- 4 --  Wilfrid Mellers    SECOND SIGHT


Still, she falls head over heels in love with the presumed stranger, creating a crise d'identité rendered even more excruciating by a subplot in which the Lydian Prince Orsanes, also in love with Elmira, plans to murder Atys, thereby ridding the world and himself of his rival in love and at the same time of the heir to Croesus's huge fortune. The comic commentaries of Trigesta and Elcius, respectively servants to Elmira and Atys, add ironic piquancies to the imbroglio; though one doesn't bother overmuch about the intricacies and contradictions of the plot since all that matters is that the opera, admitting to the inevitable failure of humans presuming to divinity, indulges in ultimate wish-fulfilment when Croesus is granted a last-minute reprieve from fiery death and is restored, by Cyrus, to his erst-while pomp. Eventually, the resuscitated Croesus pronounces blessing on the wedding of Elmira and the now verbally communicative Atys, and even the comic servants are neatly paired off. Indeed, 'pardon's the word to all' -- albeit without the moral and psychological justification that Shakespeare gave to these words of his prosperous Prospero. Keiser's final chorus celebrates 'this happy hour' not with gin and tonic but with trumpets and drums, playing music that genuinely if surprisingly sounds new-born. The strength of Enlightenment lay in that it acknowledged the reality of evil; its weakness was that, unlike Shakespeare, it did not recognise that evil entails a price.

Well, Handel's genius, as we saw in considering Silla, paid the price on our behalf. I think Keiser's genius does so too, in Croesus: the more so because Solon, the Wise Man who at the beginning warns Croesus of the illusory benefits of material power, is a man who, abstracting himself from the trumpery trumpetings of both Croesus's and Cyrus's courts, deprecates Croesus's hope or belief that he is 'paving a way to the status of a god'.

There's a touch of genius even in Keiser's conventionally martial music since it is curiously brittle beneath the glorious façade; and this ambiguity is both capped and countered by the music for the private protagonists, whether they be arbiters of human destiny or merely comic servants who are powerless except for their knack of ironic deflation.

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Copyright © 14 April 2001 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK







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