Handel's Arminio was first performed in 1737, was abandoned, and was revived only in 1935, in a German-language performance in Leipzig (the original is Italian). That revival is easy to understand: Arminius, or Herrmann, was a tribal chieftain who stalled the Roman advance into Germany with a brilliant forest ambush and arguably was the reason for the survival of Teutonic rule in northern and central Germany. In 1935 he would have been a hero to the Nazis. The story here, based on a 30-year-old libretto, is both fanciful and largely incoherent, assigning a major role to Arminius' wife, Tusnelda, of whom absolutely nothing is known. The weak libretto, along with the growing unfashionability of Italian opera seria in general, probably accounted for the interment of the opera. The lack of performances and recordings in the modern era stems from musical factors: Arminius rests on some very demanding countertenor duets, and until recently the prospect of assembling a pair (here you get a bonus: the contralto role of the Roman tribune Tullio is sung by countertenor Xavier Sabata) of capable countertenors was daunting. A 2001 recording conducted by veteran keyboardist Alan Curtis featured mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux as Arminius, but the edge of the countertenor voice seems preferable in Handel's writing. The lush voice of countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic gets top billing here, but it's the young countertenor Vince Yi, in the role of Tusnelda's brother Sigismondo, who makes the strongest impression in the difficult soprano castrato role. Sample his Act Two area "Quella fiamma, ch'il petto m'accende" (CD 2, track 2), with its perilous soprano-oboe interplay, for a taste of this rising star. The rest of the cast is uniformly strong, and the story, compact if not always dramatically convincing, unfolds in persuasive arias. A neglected Handel work, well sung here, and recommended.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2