Adultery And Culture

Having for monogamy a phobia,
King Tiridate chases fair Zenobia,
of faithful Polisenna having tired,
being only by adultery fired.
Radamisto, Polisenna’s brother,
persuades the king he shouldn’t chase another,
especially not his wife who is in love
with him, as loyal as a turtledove.
The music is divine and though the plot
is quite banal, the music is as hot
as Mozart’s, who adored George Frederic Handel.
Indeed if you do not, it is a scandal
not worth an opera, maybe, like adultery,
but proof that you are challenged culturally.

Anthony Tommasini writes about a superb performance of Handel’s “Radamisto, ” with David Daniels singling the title part, at the Sante Fe Opera (“From Handel, Faithfulness and Devotion, ” NYT, August 4,2008) :
The countertenor David Daniels reportedly had a little trouble adjusting to the high altitude of the Santa Fe Opera. It’s understandable that some singers, however fit, might find oxygen a bit wanting at the company’s open-air theater in the mountains, just north of the city at 7,500 feet. But Mr. Daniels seems to have adjusted just fine, because on Friday night, in the title role of Handel’s “Radamisto, ” the Santa Fe Opera’s first presentation of the work and Mr. Daniels’s company debut, he sang magnificently. All six cast members are exceptionally fine Handelians. “Radamisto” was the first opera Handel wrote for the Royal Academy of Music in London. Its sensational 1720 premiere inaugurated his artistically productive and very profitable tenure as the director there. Just months after its first production, though, Handel revised “Radamisto” extensively, adding 10 new arias, a duet and an intricate climactic quartet in which the main characters confront one another en masse. In later years he made more adjustments and changes. The Santa Fe staging, a co-production with the English National Opera directed by David Alden, essentially employs Handel’s first revision. However this performing version was assembled, what results is top-drawer Handel: ravishing, richly scored and ingenious music. The story is another matter. Loosely based on an incident recounted by the historian Tacitus and set in the first century A.D., the opera tells of Radamisto — the earnest son of King Farasmane of Thrace — and his ruthless enemy King Tiridate of Armenia, who is determined to conquer Thrace and claim Radamisto’s alluring wife, Zenobia. If you ignore the convolutions of the plot (a good idea) , the opera emerges as a profound exploration of marital love. Radamisto and Zenobia exemplify spousal devotion in the face of humiliation and mortal danger. Representing faithlessness is Tiridate, a tyrant grown tired of his distraught and loving wife, Polissena, who is Radamisto’s sister. By the end, in one of those instant Handel turnarounds, Tiridate learns the error of his ways, makes peace with his enemy and finds solace with his wife.


8/4/08

by gershon hepner

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