HASSE Cleofide: Highlights • William Christie, cond; Emma Kirkby (Cleofide); Agnès Mellon (Erissena); Randall K. Wong (Gandarte); Derek Lee Ragin (Poro); Dominique Visse (Alessandro); David Cordier (Timagene); Cappela Coloniensis (period instruments) • PHOENIX EDITION 178 (77:34)
This is a reissue of excerpts from the May 1986 complete recording of Hasse’s Cleofide issued on LPs by Capriccio (and later on four CDs, Capriccio 10193). I owned the original LPs and, although I was impressed by certain moments in the score that seemed to look forward to Haydn, overall I found the music more decorative and entertaining than truly inspired. This reduction, then, is particularly welcome as an introduction to a work that is more of a historical curiosity than a living opera worthy of revival.
At the time I purchased the set, only Kirkby, Mellon, and Visse were known quantities to me. William Christie was establishing himself in France, and the wonderful singing of the other countertenors—Wong, Ragin, and Cordier—was a revelation. Indeed, upon relistening to this recording I was as much if not more impressed with their singing, distinctly and individually colored and diverse in tonal variance, than I was with the women, much as I adore Kirkby and always will. Nowadays, we have a few countertenors who can produce work on this high of a level (particularly David Daniels, Andreas Scholl, and Philippe Jarousky), but for the most part the countertenor breed has declined into a sameness of hooty falsetto tone with no interpretive skill or variance.
Pride of place goes to Wong, who ironically gets one of the smaller parts in the opera. Considering its brevity, I was disappointed that Phoenix Edition did not include the short duet between Kirkby and Wong, which, for me, was one of the highlights of the set, but the inclusion of Wong’s aria, “Appena amor sen nace,” will undoubtedly stun and confuse modern listeners as much as it did me in 1987. Wong, like Russell Oberlin, does not sound like a countertenor. Oberlin sounded like a female mezzo-soprano. Wong sounds like a female soprano, so much so that I defy anyone not familiar with his voice to identify this aria in a blindfold test as being sung by a male. I wonder what became of him [HERE I AM, NOT QUITE DEAD YET- RW] His other recordings include music of Schütz (Helicon 1037), David Cope’s “Music Composed by Computer” (Centaur 2329), a superb album of Vivaldi cantatas (Helicon 1032), and Meredith Monk’s wordless opera Atlas (ECM 1491).
Ragin and Visse provide some of the most dramatically varied and musically interesting moments in the opera, particularly Visse’s splendid aria, “Cervo al bosco,” which features some incredibly adept valveless horn-playing by an unidentified musician, although the Kirkby/Mellon duet that concludes act I is also superb.
The booklet contains no texts, either in the original Italian or in translation, and like the other CDs in this series, no bios of any of the singers, but a full-page bio and photo of Nancy Horowitz, who took the cover photos for the series. Lynn René Bayley