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Cuopre tal volta il cielo, HWV98

author of text

This tempestuous bass cantata was written in Naples, in 1708 several years after the earthquake. It was possibly written for the Neapolitan singer and priest, Antonio Manna the only named singer in the cast of the serenata, Aci, Galatea and Polifemo (HWV72) which was also performed in Naples in 1708. Handel was apparently delighted to write for Manna due to his huge range and formidable vocal dexterity. The tradition of contrabasso singing was extremely popular and is demonstrated in this cantata with robust bass notes teemed with the high baritone register which can skilfully be transposed up.

In this standard cantata setting of two arias and recitatives for bass, two violins and continuo, Handel shows a mastery of the cantata form influenced by dramatic arias. That the influence flows from opera to cantata demonstrates how the latter could be regarded as a serious form in themselves and not just short try outs for opera as is often assumed. Here, Handel’s word setting is delicately poised: the text ‘An unforeseen dark cloud may cover the sky’ tells us of a lover, who with a single dark look from the object of his desire, feels like a ship tossed about on the ocean. Images of nature serve as a metaphor for suffering and the text blends elements from classical mythology with nature to create subtle meanings and allusions beyond modern recognition.

The scene takes place in a tempest off the coast of Naples and commences with an introductory Accompagnato—a recitative portraying violent gusts of wind, churning waves, thunder and lightening. The figure of the ‘tridentato Dio’ emerges from the Ocean, depicting Neptune with his trident. The first aria depicts the stormy sea through wild triplet figures and disjunctive chords whilst the voice is forced to surmount gruelling triplets, coloratura and gigantic leaps throughout all registers. In the second recitative, a shepherd reveals that the ungracious glances and haughty words of his beloved are like thunder and lightning. In the final aria, he pleads for mercy from his enraged lover, demonstrating the refined Italian baroque method of resolving a relationship crisis.

As a musical painter of action, and emotion, especially in enormous tableaux, Handel was unmatched in his depictions of God as a creator and destroyer and of heaping up the waters of the sea. And here, as elsewhere, when Handel trembled and blew the musical world felt both the joy and terror of his music.

As Handel’s friend Alexander Pope wrote in the Dunciad:

“Giant Handel stands,
Like bold Briareus,
With a hundred hands,
To stir, to rouse,
To shake the soul he comes.”

from notes by Bridget Cunningham © 2015


Handel: Handel in Italy, Vol. 1
Studio Master: SIGCD423Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Movement 1. Accompagnato: Cuopre tal volta il cielo
Track 11 on SIGCD423 [1'19] Download only
Movement 2. Aria: Tuona, balena, sibila il vento
Track 12 on SIGCD423 [3'01] Download only
Movement 3. Recitativo: Così fiera procella
Track 13 on SIGCD423 [1'03] Download only
Movement 4. Aria: Per pietà
Track 14 on SIGCD423 [5'37] Download only

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD423 track 12

Movement 2, Aria: Tuona, balena, sibila il vento
Recording date
16 January 2013
Recording venue
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Christopher Alder
Recording engineer
Neil Hutchinson
Hyperion usage
  1. Handel: Handel in Italy, Vol. 1 (SIGCD423)
    Disc 1 Track 12
    Release date: August 2015
    Download only
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