"Belshazzar" is not Handel at his best, but it should not be as boring as the finale of the Fifth Handel Festival Saturday night at Kennedy Center. It is difficult to say this after all that Stephen Simon has done for the cause of Handel's music, but a great conductor he's not. When to this one adds a new performing version that mutilates the set piece structures while banishing ornamentation, the results will not make anyone long for these concerts.
The principal roles were nicely cast, although none was encouraged to give his or her best. In the title role Henry Price was far from the brilliance he gave in a previous festival a Handel's Poro, but he remains one of the most ingratiating Handelian tenors today. His arrogant transfiguration upon facing the writing on the wall was impressive, a were the royal fireworks of his final aria. As his mother Nitocris, Patricia Craig was out of her element and tended to chirp the recitatives; yet in slow passages there was a beautiful singer in evidence.
Beverly Wolff seemed to have two voices last night: a tired demiwhisper for recitatives and her usual thrilling mezzo for the arias. A woman named Sandra Stowe gave a portrait of the prophet Daniel as a nervous imp, but the other roles were ably read.
Norman Scribner's chorus as always was the best the evening offered, although its mellow tenor section often was overpowered. The conducting had the pulse of a corpse, not only in the orchestral passages but also wherever the singers' will was not imposed, as in poor Daniel's entrance aria. The Handel Festival Orchestra did not sound rehearsed, although it could not be blamed for lacking inspiration.