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Hasse: L'Olimpiade [2 CDs]

Hasse: L'Olimpiade [2 CDs]

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Hasse’s Olimpiade was the last opera seria to be premiered in Dresden before the start of the fateful Seven Years’ War – and it was performed to great acclaim, as usual and deservedly so. At the same time it is the last festival opera in the last Court carnival in the splendid Polish-Saxon tradition. It can claim to be one of the most successful of the many notable works of its two creators. Abbé Pietro Metastasio (the pen-name of Pietro Trapassi) lived from 1698 to 1782; born a year before Hasse, he died a year earlier than the composer. His growing reputation as a composer, his marital bond with Faustina and his new religious allegiance drew him to the attention of the (Catholic) court of Saxony and Poland in Dresden, where a successor was sought for the court Kapellmeister Johann David Heinichen, who had died at the age of 46 in 1729 after a long illness.

Hasse and his wife were invited to Dresden in 1731. The performance of his opera Cleofide with Faustina in the title role led to his engagement, which could not be taken up by the married couple till 1734. The subsequent three decades of Hasse’s time in Dresden have come to stand for the heyday of Italian operatic and church music and for the standard-setting development of a court music establishment (the Hofkapelle) into an orchestra in the modern sense of the word. Hasse gave his concertmaster Pisendel, a first-rate virtuoso, a pretty free hand to perfect the art of instrumental accompaniment. An ensemble of internationally renowned singers excelled in the presence of this orchestra, which was inspired in ist turn by their vocal skill. Pöppelmann’s great opera house in the Zwinger offered festive splendour on stage and in the auditorium.


What is it that ensconces some composers in the public memory and allows others, just as remarkable, to remain stuck in some music-history books (at best)?

We are starting to find out that Hasse was an immensely skillful composer. I liked his Attilio Regolo (March/April 2018) and have long known and loved the William Christie recording of Cleofide (Nov/Dec 2011). The present release was recorded in 1992, five years before the Attilio Regolo, and I’m pleased to note that this time all of the singers have voices that fully encompass the range of the part and that they rarely add long super-high notes or scant the low ones. There are also more substantial interventions from the chorus, either on its own or interacting with a vocal soloist. The orchestration is immensely varied and imaginative, with all kinds of fresh and unpredictable string figurations, sudden chordal stabs (in a movement for chorus), and the refreshing appearance of, say, a pair of recorders. As for the arias and duets, they range across a wide range of emotions, including violent anger and deep sadness. The duets rearrange the characters in various groupings, so we hear (in this performance) a soprano and a mezzo, two countertenors (soprano and alto), one countertenor and one woman, and so on.

The libretto, by Metastasio, was set dozens of times, starting in 1733 (by Caldara, for Vienna). The plot is rather tangled, but the situations that are set up are deeply human ones, involving much deceit (and the hiding of information) on the part of people who don’t really mean ill, plus an attempted suicide (by Megacle) and a plan (by Licida) to kill the king.

The action takes place at the ancient Greek Olympic games and involves a loving couple, Megacle and Aristea, who keep getting pulled away from each other, in large part because Megacle has made the mistake of entering the Olympics under the name of Licida, who was his boyhood friend and is Aristea’s brother. The best of the soloists are Dorothea Roeschmann and Catherine Robbin (whose voices are nicely contrasting), male soprano Randall Wong (best known perhaps for his singing with Chanticleer), countertenor Steven Rickards, and the masterly tenor Christoph Prégardien (known for his Bach and Mozart and his many lieder recordings).

The booklet contains the libretto in Italian and German, plus very fine essays and informative illustrations in German and sometimes stiff English. The print is often small and pale, and the shaded background on some pages makes reading even harder. For the libretto in a 1767 English translation, a tiny note refers the user to a Google Books site—it works!

-- American Record Guide (Ralph Locke)

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Product Description:

  • Release Date: September 01, 2023

  • UPC: 881488210538

  • Catalog Number: PH21053

  • Label: Hänssler & Profil

  • Number of Discs: 2

  • Period: Baroque

  • Composer: Johann Adolf Hasse

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Kammerchor Stuttgart, Cappella Sagittariana

  • Performer: Christoph Pregardien, Catherine Robbin, Dorothea Roschmann, David Cordier, Randall Wong, Steven Rickards, Wolfram Just, Frieder Bernius