The “Care selve” is one of the sweetest, even cheesiest pieces Händel ever wrote. Yet, because it is Händel, and he was a genius, it is far more than Kitsch, even if pulls every string to cause a piece to go straight to one’s heart.
It is part of the Pastorale “Atalanta”, written for a royal wedding – thus, no deep drama was required. After all, who likes to hear about troubles on their wedding. Plotwise, it can maybe be compared to Mozart’s “Ascanio in Alba,” which was written for a similar occasion. What is special, at least for me, about the arias from those PWP-(Plot, what plot?) works, Ascanio or Atalanta, is that they very well work as stand-alone pieces.
As a counter-example: “Se pietà di me non senti” from Julius Caesar is a wonderful aria all by itself as well, but it is so tightly woven into the plot of the opera that it is Cleopatra and no other singing there. Maybe, another example will make it even clearer what I mean: Think of Bellini’s “Vaga luna” versus his “Casta Diva.”
Well, “Care selve” has something in common with “Casta Diva,” though, as it starts the opera – a real jaw-dropper at the beginning. The “Care selve” is a marvel; it’s more than just a pretty piece of music. I cannot express how much I love it
Just a side-note; the plot of “Atalanta” is softened up very much in comparison to any Greek original. In one version, Atalanta had sex with her husband – not Meleagro, but Melanion/Hippomenes depending on the source – in a temple of Zeus, but had been pregnant before already from Melagro. (This is the same Atalanta, who, some time before, had vowed to eternally remain a virgin.)
However glossed-over the plot might be; it was present in the heads of the audience back then. Atalanta is a girl who outruns every man in a race – naked – who is not afraid to hunt boars, and who allegedly joined Jason’s crew as only female later. Meleagro’s choice of partner tells us something about himself as well. In addition to being drawn to bad-ass women, he is a terrible romantic: The story has some Cinderella-elements to it as well: Meleagro conceals himself as “Tirsi,” denying his noble birth.
His wife, as he is married before – or after, in conflicting versions – is Kleopatra – not “the” Kleopatra. He will die a hero, in defence of Kalydon, something she convinced him to do.
What a mess!
Throughout all conflicting versions, some character traits remain, and Händel manages to get all those into the “Care selve.” Everything one ever wished to know about the character Meleagro is in that piece. Determination, strength, straightforwardness, dreaminess, empathy, … I really wonder sometimes how Händel managed to work that magic – to write signature arias for his characters that are as unique as a fingerprint.
To cut it short: Philippe Jaroussky should really sing this – I think it would be more than just a best-seller; it would be perfect. The tessitura is quite high, but an a’’, in 415 Hz tuning is very manageable. After all, Fauré’s “Pie Jesu” is more of a bugger to sing, in my humble opinion, equally high in tessitura, and he has recorded that one.
Here the “Care selve” is sung by the incomparable Kiri:
Random fact: The original cast of Meleagro, Gioacchino Conti , aka. “Gizziello”, had made his debut in 1730, with only 17 years of age, as Arbace in Vinci’s “Artaserse.”
Here’s some free sheet music at the Petrucci library.
Georg Friedrich Händel, Atalanta
Care selve, ombre beate,
vengo in traccia del mio cor
Beloved woods, blessed shadows,
I come in search of my love
(Some say I have too much time, alas …)