The Collegiate Chorale: Jupiter in Argos

Iíve delighted in their presentations of
Weberís Oberon (Lauren Flanigan as the Caliphís daughter!),
Dvorakís Dmitry (Martina Arroyo as a Polish princess! ó a line
that brought down the house), Szymanowskyís King Roger, and many
of the Verdi works that give choral forces a workout. Handel might be a
worthy choice for such a group ó his dramatic oratorios are terrific music,
terrific drama, largely unfamiliar to New York audiences, and give pride of
place, not to say a spectacular starring role, to the chorus, though in my
experience of Handel chorale, less is usually more, and a proficient choir of
two dozen is more effective than a group of fifty or a hundred.

However, bypassing the superb dramatic oratorios heard far too
infrequently (Saul, for instance, or Athaliah, or
Susannah, or Belshazzar, or ó when did anyone last
perform Alexander Balas?), Bass chose this spring to give the
American premiere of the recently unearthed Giove in Argos
(Jupiter in Argos), a pasticcio ó that is, a work cobbled
together mostly from pre-existing music by contract to a company of musicians
while Handelís true creative attentions were elsewhere. For a group with
the Collegiate Choraleís credentials and Bassís expertise ó undoubtedly
fine but with little experience in the once neglected, now tremendously
popular area of baroque opera ó it may not have been the wisest possible

The choruses were pleasing, but they played a comparatively small part in
the eveningís entertainment, while Bass made the drastic decision ó
defensible thirty years ago, but way out of line today ó to snip nearly all
the solo arias of their B sections or their da capo ornamented repeats. This
may have pleased the unions, but far too often it left hearers unsatisfied by
singers who were barely warming to their tasks of characterization and
ornament when they were obliged to sit down. Our ears were left wobbling by
holes that had been dug in the path and were never to be filled. It was
tatterdemalion Handel, even allowing for the high quality of some singing and
of many individual arias familiar from other works.

For the pasticcio plot, someone devised a properly
pasticcio legend combining the Ovidian myths of two of Jupiterís
amours ó Io (transformed into a cow, fled to Egypt, and identified by later
Greeks with the cow-headed goddess Isis) and Callisto (transformed, with her
son, into bears, and placed among the stars). Setting two myths at once
allowed Jupiter (tenor Rufus M¸ller) to get himself caught by each lady
wooing the other, with the usual sitcom shenanigans and a happy-ish end of
his going home to his wife and leaving them both alone.

The delight of the evening was Kristine Jepson as Io/Isis; her cool,
lovely, hall-filling mezzo was the reason I was glad to be at this concert
and nowhere else in New York. She possesses both the crowd-thrilling agility
of ornament for Handelís fiery arias (jealous rage or cries of alarm), she
can sing quietly of despair or yearning, the simple, pensive beauty of her
perfect technique making time seem to stop. This is the quality all great
Handel singers must possess ó the ability to draw you within their hearts,
to comprehend the emotions being expressed, and Jepson has it.

Elizabeth Futral was, as usual, the most elegantly dressed of the
performers; she sang Callisto with her accustomed assurance, a pretty way
with runs and ornaments, a light touch on the flowering vocal line. Heidi
Grant Murphyís voice always seems bland and ill-supported; her Diana lacked
a goddessís authority. Rufus M¸ller, as the hapless king of the gods, drew
as much sympathy for his harassed facial expressions as for his facility with
Handelís tenor lines. Wayne Tigges sang a decent Osiris but Valerian
Ruminski, whose rich bass rumble I have admired on bel canto occasions,
seemed off his game or out of his proper repertory here.

John Yohalem

image_description=G. F. Handel
product_title=G. F. Handel: Jupiter in Argos
product_by=Callisto: Elizabeth Futral; Diana: Heidi Grant Murphy; Iside: Kristine Jepson; Jupiter: Rufus M¸ller; Osiris: Wayne Tigges; Lycaone: Valerian Ruminski. The Collegiate Chorale directed by Robert Bass. Avery Fisher Hall, performance of April 28.