<< -- 2 -- Wilfrid Mellers SECOND SIGHT
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.
Copyright © 7 April 2001
Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK
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