<< -- 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.
Copyright © 14 April 2001
Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK
CD INFORMATION - HARMONIA MUNDI HM 901714.16
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