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Although heroic operas are mythic they are, being exclusively concerned with human motivations, also fuddled about their psychological sources. Nervously, this opera suggests that Silla's career of mayhem was precipitated by a dream in which he is counselled by a god who would seem to be the, rather than merely a, Devil. Of course this god is sung by a man -- the bass Christopher Dixon, whose sonorous masculinity distinguishes him, even in coloratura, from the treble sonorities of the more and less human characters. So it's probably not fortuitous that the most moving music tends to be allotted to the 'real' female protagonists. Mettella's aria 'Io non chieda più', with its bemusedly hesitant rhythm, is psychologically penetrating as well as lyrically assuaging, while Flavia's final aria, 'Stelle rubelle', fuses the force of inexorable decision in the main section with heart-felt resignation in the 'middle', once again demonstrating how the formal artifice of a da capo aria was precisely attuned to the inconsistency and even contradiction inherent in most human experience. That the resigned 'middle' section is later repeated to dramatic effect is evidence of Handel's always imaginative use of a 'closed' convention; and it's to the point that the most ultimately moving moment should be the aria that Celia sings when she cannot believe that the man who appears before her is not the ghost of the tyrant-slain Claudio, but palpable flesh and blood. This inverted wish-fulfilment, with its proudly arching line undermined by falteringly limping rhythm, is typically Handelian in equating her physical with her metaphysical condition. The roles of the two 'normal' women are beautifully sung by Natasha March and Elisabeth Cragg.

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Copyright © 7 April 2001 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK







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