16 Mar 2008

Handel's Riccardo primo, Re d’Inghilterra (HWV 23) and Tolomeo, Re d’Egitto (HWV 25) from Bärenreiter

Published in 2007, Riccardo primo, Re d’Inghilterra (HWV 23) and Tolomeo, Re d’Egitto (HWV 25) mark two of the latest installments of vocal-score editions of Handel’s operas based upon Bärenreiter’s Urtext editions.

The primary benefit of these vocal scores seems clear enough: making available affordable, convenient, modern critical editions of Handel’s operas.1 Hitherto, individuals have been largely limited to reproductions of Chrysander’s admirable but often unreliable ninetieth-century German scores (G. F. Händels Werke: Ausgabe der deutschen Händelgesellschaft, 1858–94), which are availably for purchase only sporadically (in the form, for example, of the Dover Score of Giulio Cesare and Kalmus’s miniature reprint series). Bärenreiter’s full-score editions, of course, have been beyond the means of most individuals – Riccardo Primo and Tolomeo are priced at €335.00 and €259.00 respectively – and are obviously intended primarily for institutional purchase. At prices in the €25–€40 range, however, the vocal editions are affordable to a wide range of scholars, students, and performers.

As has generally been the case, the vocal scores of Riccardo Primo and Tolomeo have followed the release of the full-score editions of the same operas in the Hallische Händel-Ausgabe (HHA) complete-works series.2 Needless to say, the vocal editions cannot offer many of the advantages of the HHA full scores, which have been nearly unanimously hailed for the wealth of explanatory information they provide. The orchestrational indications, for example, offer only sketches of Handel’s instrumentation, and are not always entirely clear. Similarly, although a list of general procedural guidelines is supplied in the front matter, explanations of specific editorial decisions are, of necessity, extremely limited. The front matter, however, provides (in both German and English) historical background, plot synopses, and, in the case of Riccardo Primo, descriptions of the divergent versions of the opera, giving students and scholars important contextual information. (These passages are in some cases reproduced verbatim from the HHA editions, and in others presented in condensed form.)

Handel_Tolomeo.pngOn balance, Ricardo Primo, Tolomeo, and the rest of the series serve their purpose quite well. For researchers, the editions will likely save many a trip to the university library (especially if the vocal scores are supplemented with background and source information from Winton Dean’s two-volume monograph on Handel’s operas). Moreover, vocal instructors, students, and professional singers alike are sure to find the editions invaluable, in that they provide relatively easy access to dependable editions of Handel’s operatic works with each new publication.

Nathan Link

1. The vocal score of Amadigi di Gaula was published in late February 2008; Oreste is set to be published in May 2008.

2. There are three exceptions: the vocal scores for Ezio (scheduled for publication Summer 2008), Alcina (due for publication in 2009), and Giulio Cesare (publication date not yet clear) have preceded the publication of the respective HHA full score.