It is one of the great man’s earlier works, but had to wait 18 years for a performance. Written in 1709 but not staged until 1737, it failed at its premiere in Covent Garden and was largely ignored afterwards. It is not difficult to see why, despite many arias of charm and style that Handelians have come to respect and love.
It contains only one chorus (the finale) and three duets. Having not seen the work staged, I have to assume that this does not make for an engrossing evening in the theatre. On disc, of course, this is less important. However, the variety of music and ensembles that we have come to expect from his masterpieces (such as Acis and Galatea, Julius Caesar and Alcina), is not evidenced here. Even as a concert it would be a stretch: 2 hours 45 minutes is a long time for an audience to cope with a seemingly endless stream of similar arias, no matter how brilliant.
This performance is up to the standard that we now expect in this field. The reduced orchestra of Il Complesso Barocco (no flutes, trumpets or horns) plays well and the soloists are excellent. Special mention must be made of countertenor Franco Fagioli, who plays Demetrio. His range is remarkable and his voice has a rich, dark tone that is compelling –quite unusual in a countertenor. The recording quality is excellent.