Johann Hasse (1699-1783) was a great composer for the voice. He was married to a superstar singer of the day, Faustina Bordoni (who became briefly infamous when during a performance of an opera she and her rival, Francesca Cuzzoni, began pulling each other’s hair), and he composed nearly 100 operas, mostly in the opera seria manner. The work recorded here is an oratorio he penned in 1734 for Dresden; 40 years later he revised it and presented it in Vienna and it is that version we get here. It is a simple tale: Three young Jews, captives of Nabucodnosor, refuse to worship a gold idol and are thrown into a furnace, but they pray to the God of Israel and are saved by an Angel of God. Nabucodnosor, dazzled by the event, embraces the Israelis’ God as a result. Precisely how dramatic the whole is supposed to be is hard to say; what isn’t hard to say is that it’s a delight of a work and this performance, though far from perfect, will make you appreciate Hasse.
It is a series of arias and recitatives (four of the latter emphatically accompanied), with the occasional terzetto and chorus thrown in. But the arias are of different forms and lengths, the entry of the chorus is sporadic and surprising, and the vocal writing charming. The bad Babylonian, with one exception, has only accompanied recitatives, and Alan Ewing’s expressive bass voice makes the most of the role. Of the three young Israelites, the soprano roles of Anania and Azaria are practically interchangeable–a weakness in the score, I might add (I would have liked more recognizable characterization)–but Stefania Donzelli is the more impressive of the two singers. The third, Misaele, is a countertenor role (who knows for what voice it was composed?) and has plenty of good music to sing. Belfiori Doro has a nice, opaque sound and strong technique that serve the music well. As the Angel, Ilia Sandivari is disappointing (this may have been Bordoni’s role–the range is much alike) with a tone less angelic than desired. The Ensemble Musica Rara plays well under Arnold Bosman in this live recording, and the sound is quite good. I’ve listened through this several times–it’s to the point, entertaining, and has many nice touches. Recommended.