Promoting Historically-Inspired Performances of Early Music and Baroque Opera
By George Frideric Handel (Georg Friedrich Händel)
A performance directed by René Jacobs was broadcast on ORF.at on February 23, 2013. It was such an atrocity that I tuned out during the first aria, Tigrane's "Deh, fuggi un traditore". "Sommi dei", Polissena's great arioso that begins the opera is marked Largo e staccato. Jacobs performed it legato, with sustained notes from a non-historically inspired organ carrying through rests. Tigrane was transposed down an octave for a tenor.
Handel's Dedication to George I
[Following the title page of the April 1720 word book.]
TO THE KING'S MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY.
THE Protection which Your Majesty has been graciously pleased to allow both to the Art of Musick in general and to one of the lowest, tho' not the least dutiful of Your Majesty's Servants, has embolden'd me to present to Your Majesty, with all due Humility and Respect, this my first Essay to that Design. I have been still the more encouraged to this, by the particular Approbation Your Majesty has been pleased to give to the Musick of this Drama: Which, may I be permitted to say, I value not so much as it is the Judgment of a Great Monarch, as of one of a most Refined Taste in the Art: my Endeavours to improve which, is the only Merit which can be pretended by me, except that of being with the utmost Humility,
S I R,
George Frederic Handel.
[English version from the December 1720 word book. The Italian version was taken verbatim from the argumento in the 1712 word book for Gasparini's L'amor tirannico.]
FARASMANES, King of Thracia, had two Children, Radamistus and Polissena: Radamistus married Zenobia, a Princess of Noble Blood, and nobler Virtue. Polissena was given in Marriage to Tiridates King of Armenia, who, a little while after, coming to his Father-in-Law's Court, at a time when Radamistus was absent, saw there his Sister-in-Law, and fell in love with her. Being returned to his own Kingdom, and finding no other way to satisfy his unjust Amours, he on a sudden made War against Farasmanes, and took him from his whole Dominions, the Capital City only excepted, into which Radamistus and Zenobia were retired, in order to defend it; having before this in a Battle made Farasmanes a Prisoner. He carries his Wife with him into the Army, left some Insurrection should happen in his Absence. The City having at last surrender'd, from whence Radamistus and Zenobia had fortunately made their Escape; but being discover'd by the Enemy's Soldiers, Radamistus fearing that his Wife might fall into the Tyrant's Hands, by her own Perswasion, wounded her; and supposing her dead, he flings her into the River, out of which she was taken by the Soldiers that pursued her, and conducted to Tiridates.
Radamistus, in Despair for having kill'd his Wife, enters Tiridate's Camp, with a Design to kill him; there he finds his Wife, though a Prisoner, yet still alive: And after various Accidents, it comes to pass, that he recovers both Her and his Kingdom.
See the Annals of Tacitus, Book xij. Chap. 51. This happened the 12th Year of Claudius, the 53rd of our Saviour.
Radamisto is one of Handel's greatest operas, and in many respects the original April 1720 version is superior to the more familiar December 1720 version, which Handel reworked for different voices. The libretto was adapted by Haym from Domenico Lalli's libretto for Gasparini's L'amor tirannico (Venice 1710), in which Berenstadt (Tolomeo in Handel's Giulio Cesare) sang the part of Radamisto. Dean & Knapp note that there were many later settings of Lalli's text, by Orlandini, Feo, Chelleri and Porta (together), Schürmann and Ciampi among others. (Handel's Operas 1704-1726, p.328 n.22).
In April 1720, the role of Radamisto was sung by Margherita Durastanti, a soprano, and Zenobia by Anastasia Robinson, a contralto. Senesino, an alto castrato, had arrived in England by December and took over the principal roles in productions of the Royal Academy of Music, including the part of Radamisto. In addition to transposing and expanding Radamisto's music for Senesino, Handel also transposed and revised Zenobia's music for Durastanti, who took over the role.
Alexander Gordon, the Scottish tenor best known for having threatened to leap onto the harpsichord during a dispute with Handel and who later became a plantation owner in South Carolina, was the original Tiridate. For Gordon, Handel reworked an aria from Rodrigo into the brilliant trumpet aria "Stragi, morti", but he replaced it in the second version, when the bass-baritone Boschi took over the part of Tiridate.
The role of Fraarte in the original libretto was upgraded from a mere soldier to Tiridate's brother in love with Zenobia upon the demand of the soprano castrato Benedetto Baldassari, according to an anonymous letter published in The Theatre, which said that Baldassari "found friends, and was made a Prince". Fraarte was demoted to his original status in the December 1720 version, when Caterina Galerati took over the role, and lost his three arias concerned with love for Zenobia. At the same time, Handel enlarged the role of Tigrane, originally performed by Galerati in April 1720, for the soprano castrato Matteo Berselli "to the disadvantage of the opera". Dean & Knapp, Handel's Operas, 1704-1726, p.343.
The most significant enhancement in the December 1720 version was the addition of the quartet at the end of Act III, "O cedere o perir".
Original word books for the April and December 1720 and the January 1728 performances were included in The Librettos of Handel's Operas, edited by Ellen Harris. The April 1720 libretto, in Harris volume 3, is the prompter's copy, with numerous handwritten notes in the margins. These notes were typeset in Milhous & Hume, "A Prompt Copy of Handel's Radamisto", The Musical Times, cxxvii:316-321 (1986). The December 1720 word book was reproduced in Harris volume 9, and the 1728 word book was reproduced in Harris volume 12. Unlike the word books for most other Handel operas, the Radamisto word books contained English summaries of the arias, rather than line by line "translations".
The booklet provided with McGegan's recording includes an English version with corrections and new translations of the arias by Terrence Best, as well as modern German and French translations. The booklet included with Curtis's recording includes Anthony Hicks' English translation and essay about Radamisto originally prepared for the London Handel Festival. If you have difficulty reading the tiny type in CD booklets, as I do, you should look for a copy of the libretto published by the London Handel Festival, which includes the same texts in readable type.
The most widely available score, which used to be inexpensive, is Chrysander's Händelgesellschaft (HG) edition, published out of copyright by Gregg and Kalmus. It's better than some HG scores, but excludes the ballet suites and mixes the December 1720, November 1721 and January 1728 versions in a supplement containing many inaccuracies. Terrence Best's new edition of the December 1720 version (Version II) was published in HHA Serie II/Bd. 9.2 (2000).
Handel transcribed the overture and at least one aria for keyboard. A modern edition of the overture was published in Terrence Best's 3-volume set of Handel overture transcriptions, and a modern edition of Handel's transcription of "Cara sposa" by Patrick J. Rogers was published in the February 1990 issue of Early Music (pp.86-87). In addition, a keyboard transcription (by Handel?) of "Ombra cara" was published in the 1988 volume of HHA scores.
Gasparini. L'amor tirannico (Venice 1710). Libretto by Domenico Lalli. The text of a second version staged in Florence in 1712 was the basis for Handel's libretto.
Winton Dean & J. Merrill Knapp. Handel's Operas, 1704-1726. (Oxford University Press 1995 (1987)).
R. Strohm, "Handel and his Italian opera texts". Essays on Handel and the Italian Opera. (Oxford University Press 1985).