'Artaxerxes is a rare beast, perhaps a unique one: an 'opera seria' composed to English words. Almost all of the numbers are solo arias; there are two duets, and an ensemble Finale newly composed by Duncan Druce to replace the missing ending. Arne owes much to Handel, but he tends to write more concisely. This studio recording is based on a staged production, and it shows in the natural way in which the characters interact. The recitatives—also new, composed by Ian Page—are delivered with conviction, flowing seamlessly into the arias. Christopher Ainslie as Artaxerxes woos with honeyed tone, while Caitlin Hulcup as his friend Arbaces impresses with her coloratura. 'The soldier, tir'd of war's alarms', recorded years ago by Joan Sutherland, goes to the excellent Elizabeth Watts as Arbaces' lover. There's much delectable writing for the woodwind and horns, all beautifully played. This lively account of a charming work will give much pleasure' (Classic FM)
Artaxerxes, premiered in London in 1762, was the first full-length opera seria sung in English. It proved a great success and helped to revive the fortunes of Thomas Arne, whose career had been in the doldrums. The opera featured his new protégée and mistress Charlotte Brent in the role of Mandane and Arne lavished attention on her music. Mandane’s arias and those of the hero Arbaces provide many of the opera’s high points, with their rich orchestrations, virtuoso vocal parts and captivating tunes. Though based on the Handelian model, Artaxerxes shows both Arne’s talent at the later galant style and his penchant for folk-like, pastoral airs. The results are mostly a delight (if a tad lightweight for the libretto’s blood ’n’ thunder deeds), with a variety of attractive arias further enhanced by Arne’s deft use of woodwind. Christopher Robson in the title role and Catherine Bott, thrilling as Mandane, head a fine team of singers: my only complaint is that Patricia Spence’s forceful Arbaces too often slips into shrill and strident mode.
No less than five brilliant countertenors – including Max Emanuel Cencic and Philippe Jaroussky – join conductor Diego Fasolis and Concerto Köln for Artaserse by Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730). In early 18th century Italy, the Neapolitan-born composer was one of the brightest stars in opera, and Artaserse is considered his masterpiece.
What do we know about the Persian Empire? For most of the past 2,500 years, we've heard about it from the ancient Greek perspective: a decadent civilization run by despots, the villains who lost the Battle of Marathon and supplied the fodder for bad guys in literature and film. But is this image really accurate?