Opera Scotland

Admeto Admeto, re di Tessaglia; Admetus, King of Thessaly

Music
George Frideric Handel (born Halle, 23 February 1685; died London, 14 April 1759)

Text
Anonymous, usually attributed to Nicola Francesco Haym or Paulo Antonio Rolli.

Source
L’Alceste by Ortensio Mauro, itself adapted from L’Antigona delusa da Alceste by Aurelio Aureli.

 

Premières
First performance: London (King’s Theatre, Haymarket), 31 January 1727.
First UK performance: As above.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Festival Theatre), 21 August 2009.
Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background
The plot of Admeto is most likely to be familiar nowadays from periodic performances of Gluck’s Alceste, which uses the common source material, ultimately the play by Euripides. However the earlier piece, by Handel, employs a version of the text based on a romanticised 17th century adaptation originating in Venice. This involves the addition of a sub-plot that introduces the character of Antigona, in love with Admetus, and therefore keen to dispose of Alcestis. It also introduces Trasimede, brother to Admetus, who also conspires against him.

Handel’s opera was very successful at its early performances, but has fared less well in modern revival than several of the pieces Handel composed around the same time. It is likely that some of the popularity arose from the highly publicised, perhaps orchestrated, rivalry between Handel’s two leading ladies – Francesca Cuzzoni (Antigona) and Faustina Bordoni (Alceste). The two parts were given an equal number of arias of equal virtuosity, but specifically tailored by Handel to show off the characteristics of each voice in turn – dazzling trills and lightness of approach from Cuzzoni contrasted with movingly tragic heroism from Bordoni
Senesino, his star castrato, also had to be catered for in the title role, and Handel was careful to give him a number of moving solos with which to keep the audience’s attention.

 

Characters
Admeto, re di Tessaglia (counter-tenor)
Alceste, his Queen (mezzo-soprano)
Antigona, a Trojan princess disguised as a shepherdess (soprano)
Trasimede, brother to Admeto, in love with Antigona (counter-tenor)
Orindo, a gentleman of the Court (alto)
Meraspe, Antigona’s guardian, also disguised (bass)
Hercules (bass)
Oracle of Apollo (bass)

 

Plot Summary
Admetus is suffering from a fatal disease. The oracle of Apollo has decreed that the king will only recover if another person willingly gives up his life. No one is willing to do this until Alcestis hears of the condition. She resolves to die. After Admetus recovers he is horrified to discover the cost involved. Hercules arrives, and he goes down to the underworld to rescue Alcestis and bring her back to the world. This elegantly simple plot is interspersed with other elements by which the confusion over the identity of Antigona and the loves and ambitions of Trasimede are eventually resolved happily.

 
RECORDINGS

EMIVIRGIN (3 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1977

Conductor: Alan Curtis
Il Complesso Barocco
Rachel Yakar (Alceste), Jill Gomez (Antigona), Rene Jacobs (Admeto).

This recording was made fairly early in the rush to record all Handel’s stage works with original instruments – which reflects the popularity Admeto had at the time of composition. In modern times, however it has failed to gain the popularity of the major works composed just before – Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare for instance. Equally, some of the masterworks that came shortly afterwards, such as Orlando, Ariodante and Alcina have recently been performed with far greater frequency. However there is still a great deal to enjoy, and the piece works well in performance, as was found when a Gottingen production came to the 2009 Edinburgh Festival.

This production is generally well sung, not just by the three major characters, but also by James Bowman as the villain Trasimede and Ulrik Cold and Max van Egmond in the bass roles. Alan Curtis already had many years experience of reviving little known baroque scores, and shows a sure touch.

PONTO (3 CDs) Sung in English Recorded 1968

Conductor: Anthony Lewis
Baroque Opera Orchestra
Janet Baker (Alceste), Sheila Armstrong (Antigona), Maureen Lehane (Admeto).

Sir Anthony Lewis at Birmingham’s Barber Institute was a pioneering figure in the revival of previously forgotten baroque works by Handel, Rameau and others, so it is good to have a reminder of the quality of performance he used to produce, attracting some of the best specialists of the time. Sheila Armstrong is as delightful as one would expect, and Janet Baker produces the right degree of emotional involvement for Alceste – though the role does not have quite the depth that she would later find in Gluck’s version.

Lewis’s direction is heavier and slower than we would accept nowadays but the singers all project the translation clearly. At this stage, at least in Britain, the old castrato roles were no longer sung at incorrect pitch in order to employ male singers when there were not enough counter-tenors, but the mezzos singing male roles do sometimes sound a bit on the plummy side.

The Cast

Admeto
 Admetus, King of Thessaly
Alceste
 Admeto's Queen
Antigona
 a Trojan princess dirguised as a shepherdess
Ercole
 Hercules, friend of Admetus
Meraspe
 tutor to Antigona
Orindo
 a gentleman of the Court
Trasimede
 brother to Admeto, in love with Antigona

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