The remarkable resurgence of Handel operas in the last quarter-century owes at least as much to their abundant opportunities for vocal display as to their overall musical quality, which can be spotty, or their dramatic persuasiveness, which is often feeble. So Carnegie Hall was well filled with voice aficionados on Sunday afternoon for a concert performance of Handel’s “Radamisto,” with the fine period-instrument band English Concert deftly conducted from the harpsichord by Harry Bicket.
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Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times
Radamisto Harry Bicket led the English Concert’s performance of this work at Carnegie Hall.
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And they got what they came for. The nominal attraction was the countertenor David Daniels in the title role, but the casting was strong across the board.
The plot spins out the would-be fatal pursuit of Radamisto, son of Farasmane, the king of Thrace, by the invading troops of Tiridate, the dastardly king of Armenia, about as far as it can be spun. However much bent on sheer conquest, Tiridate also lusts after Radamisto’s wife, Zenobia, spurning his own, Polissena, Radamisto’s sister. At the final bell, in the last of 32 scenes, the other characters, led by Tiridate’s ally, Tigrane, convince Tiridate of the evil of his ways. He suddenly relents (“What virtue I offended!”), and all’s well.
Fortunately, there are enough great arias (along with a few duets and ensembles) to carry the day, if well performed. Most were magnificently rendered here.
The bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni nearly stole the show, as his characterizations so often do, with his bullying, blustery Tidirate (though Mr. Daniels momentarily upstaged him in return, standing to acknowledge and extend applause for his performance of Radamisto’s great aria “Ombra cara,” just as Mr. Pisaroni was attempting a stage entrance). Mr. Pisaroni made the most of his bravura moments and commanded the stage with his physical presence as well as with his voice.
The other main characters all had lyrical showcases in addition to vocal fireworks, and that is where Mr. Daniels really shone. His fioritura sometimes sounded approximate, partly, perhaps, because it did not always project well. His more subdued and reflective arias, on the other hand, especially that “Ombra cara,” were nothing but gorgeous.
The women were all excellent: the soprano Joélle Harvey, assured if not imposing in the trouser role of Tigrane; another soprano, Brenda Rae, sturdy yet suitably vulnerable as Polissena; and the mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon, utterly melting as Zenobia. David Kravitz, a baritone, was more than adequate to the smaller role of Farasmane.
This was the first in a series of Handel operas and oratorios to be presented in concert by Carnegie Hall, with Mr. Bicket and the English Concert. “Theodora,” another musical gem, was recently announced for next February.