Keiser’s Croesus – Jacobs – harmonia mundi – TEN

Review by: Robert Levine

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Thanks to countertenor/conductor René Jacobs’ musical curiosity, we have a new Baroque opera to contend with, and it’s very different from any of the Handel or Vivaldi works with which we’ve recently become acquainted. Reinhard Keiser (1674-1739) was active in Hamburg and this opera therefore gives us a peek at what was going on outside of Italy, France, and England at the time. He mixes serious and comic situations and comes up with something very different from either opera seria or the French tragédies lyriques of Lully and Rameau. Arias tend to be brief and flavorful and only a handful are da capo; duets just happen naturally and are prone to break off into recitative only to return to the duet form again; and orchestration is vivid and punchy (and Jacobs’ band plays it spectacularly).

The plot concerns King Croesus, who is immensely wealthy and therefore believes himself to be invincible. The philosopher Solon disagrees, arguing that worldly goods are short-lived. When Croesus is defeated by the Persians, of course the argument’s over; but in addition to that philosophical plot line, there are love affairs and intrigues. Croesus’ son, Atis, is mute for the first act, but is struck with the ability to speak when his father is about to be killed. He loves Elmira, who returns his love–they engage in duets early on in which he doesn’t answer(!). Going further into the plot won’t help; the accompanying booklet clarifies as much as you’d like.

The performance is the thing, and whatever this is, it’s goregously performed and gripping from the first to the last second of its entire three-hour span. Roman Trekel’s Croesus is believable without being dislikeable, and his bickering with Kwangchul Youn as Solon is vivid. Once Werner Güra as Atis begins to sing you wish he’d been able in Act 1; his is a wonderful tenor, with plenty of spice and technique to spare. The same might be said of Dorothea Röschmann’s Elmira–the character is invariably in some sort of ferocious mood and Röschmann is spectacular. The rest of the soloists are just as good, and the comic characters add zest. This is one-of-a-kind but more than a rarity: It’s a great work, ideally performed. One Grammy coming up!

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: none


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