Handel brought his best game to Radamisto, and we would probably see this 1720 opera more on stage if it didn't have what is, even by this genre's elevated standards, a flimsy plot; ENO's production two seasons ago was a relatively rare outing. Perhaps a concert performance is the best bet, especially when as persuasively cast and played as this one. An announcement that all three female singers had colds wasn't a good start, but turned out to be as unnecessary as it was indulgent.
As soon as the overture began (Harry Bicket directing the English Concert from the harpsichord), it was clear this would be a performance to keep up with – a dynamic, rip-roaring dash through the score, but with shape and nuance too.
The title role was written for a star soprano and adapted for an even bigger star castrato; here it was starrily cast with countertenor David Daniels. The role played to his strengths in that Radamisto's climactic final aria is slow and backed by a thinner orchestra – it was a beautiful vehicle for the vibrant tone and astounding breath control for which Daniels has always been celebrated.
The vocal gymnastics in his previous aria had also been impressive, but he seemed to have been saving his voice – in earlier fast music he sometimes sounded underpowered, especially next to Patricia Bardon, who sang the equally defiant fusillades assigned to his faithful wife Zenobia with focused richness and bravura. Soprano Brenda Raesounded lovely but a little small of voice as Polissena, but bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni had the vocal heft and the agility for a superb, deliciously tyrannical Tiridate. Elizabeth Watts mayhave seemed incongruous – a tiny soprano in velvet coat and breeches playing an oddly chirpy general – but the audience loved her for her gleaming singing as much as for her levity.