Riccardo Primo - Britten Theatre, 26 March 2012 (London Handel Festival)
The London Handel Festival dug deep into the leftovers bin for their annual staged opera this year.
It's fair to say Riccardo Primo isn't an inexplicably overlooked masterpiece, but it's better than its obscurity might suggest - and like any Handel rarity, worth hearing at least once.
Unfortunately it wasn't done any favours by a production which exposed and often exacerbated the dramatic weaknesses that bar its wider currency. In compensation, musical justice was done to the lively, imaginative score by Laurence Cummings and the London Handel Orchestra, together with some talented advanced-level singing students from the Royal College of Music.
Online booking opens on 25 January for this year's London Handel Festival, which runs from 15 March to 24 April.
Handel-y highlights include the final of the annual Handel Singing Competition (15 March), a fully staged version of Riccardo primo, re d’Inghilterra (26 to 29 March), and a concert version of Il pastor fido (13 April) featuring Lucy Crowe. The Festival ends with the 1742 Dublin version of Messiah, featuring Christine Rice and Sophie Bevan.
But it's not just Handel da capo ad infinitum. On 21 March the Croatian choir Collegium floridum perform early sacred music by Croatian composers and Croatian songs. Hasse's Cajo Fabricio is given its modern premiere on 20 April, and there's a Good Friday (6 April) outing at St George's Hanover Square (Handel's own parish church) for Bach's St Matthew Passion. This will be performed as originally intended as part of Vespers, including the congregational hymns and the Jacob Handl Gallus motet that Bach himself chose for the Good Friday service.
A number of reasonably-priced concerts throughout the Festival highlight the skillz of past Singing Competition finalists, touching on some rarely-heard repertoire.
Nice singers, shame about the band. Anyone who came to hear Joyce DiDonato won't have been disappointed. Costumed as Ronnie O'Sullivan for her cross-dressing title role in this concert performance, she outclassed everyone else on stage with her clean line and crisp coloratura.