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<<  -- 3 --  Wilfrid Mellers    SECOND SIGHT

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But despite James Bowman's artistry, not even he can make us take Silla's repentance seriously, though he sings potently enough to persuade us that wish-fulfilment may, very occasionally, be mistaken for truth. That must be why the final choric and military music almost convinces us that 'doppo tente tempeste e'l ciel sereno', if not quite that 'la crudeltade' may cease. There seems absolutely no reason, however, why 'heaven alone' deserves credit for this ultimate wish-fulfilment -- which is possibly what 'enlightenment' finally amounted to. It keeps us going a bit longer, and we must be grateful for small mercies.

Performances and recordings of Handel's operas are not now hard to come by. Though I would not have chosen Silla as the next candidate for revival, it contains ravishing music that may shed balm even on our 21st century tyrannies. I'd like, however, to remind Denys Darlow of something he must be well aware of: that there are still gaps or inadequacies in the recordings of Handel's Old Testament oratorios -- which are what he turned opera seria into when the commonsensical British public wearied of an art that Dr Johnson, in his Dictionary, defined as 'an Exotic and Irrational Entertainment'.

Admittedly, Old Testament ethics are themselves often difficult for us to swallow; but Handel unfailingly lighted on the 'universal' values buried within them, and coming up for two centuries on the link between Handel's oratorios and us remains unbroken. They are part of our heritage, as Handel's operas, magnificent though they may be in potentia, cannot unreservedly be.

Copyright © 7 April 2001 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK

 

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