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Handel wrote the title role for a female mezzo-soprano. Even though he made significant use of the tenor voice in his oratorios, with many significant roles being written for John Beard, the first Samson, Handel seems to have viewed Solomon as a young lover and hero and as such the role was written for a high voice, as in his Italian operas. Here the role was sung by the young Australian counter-tenor David Hansen, who seems to be starting to make a name for himself in the baroque repertoire in Europe. Hansen has a silvery, focussed voice with a slight, rather pleasant edge. In vocal style he is closer to Andreas Scholl than David Daniels, which is a good thing in this sort of music; but does have something of Daniels' soft, feminine edge as well. Hansen has a good feel for Handel's style and sang the role raptly and intently, though he does not yet quite bring the sort of glorious sheen and depth of colour to the vocal line that Scholl does.
Much as I love the counter-tenor voice I often feel that, though having Solomon sung by a counter-tenor is successful, using a female mezzo-soprano can bring something extra to the role. Perhaps because, singing in the lower register, a female mezzo-soprano can often bring more variety of colour and depth to the voice.
Besides the voice type used for Solomon, the piece harks back to Handel's earlier works in other respects as well. Solomon contains a significant number of da capo arias, but this might have been as a result of the predominantly Italian speaking cast, who might have expected to sing such music. Jacobs seems to have taken inspiration from this and the cast was encouraged to decorate the repeats. This is a perfectly correct procedure but I felt that sometimes the decorations were a little too elaborate, especially as the harpsichord was also encouraged to add elaborate flourishes at significant cadences.
Copyright © 12 April 2006
Robert Hugill, London UK