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HANDEL Chloris, Thyrsis, and Philenus: Margaret Bragle, Marguerite Krull, Drew Minter; Tempesta di Mare; conducted by Richard Stone; directed by Drew Minter; Levitt Theater of the Gershman Y, Philadelphia, 21 May 2005 (BJ)


The Gershman Y in Philadelphia, a splendid Jewish community resource, is not the first location that you might expect to find presenting opera. I associate it more with film festivals and with ballroom dancing lessons–my wife and I took some of the latter there last century. But on the weekend of 21 May the Gershman’s Levitt Theater was the scene for a fully-staged production of Handel’s early pastoral “cantata a tre” Clori, Tirsi e Fileno, and the results were every bit as delightful as the work itself.


I was a shade regretful that Gwyn Roberts and Richard Stone, the artistic directors of the local period-instrument orchestra Tempesta di Mare, chose to perform it in English (and to give it the rather odd bilingual billing “Clori, Tirsi and Fileno”). Lawrence Rosenwald’s English translation sounded, when I could distinguish the words, skillful enough, but Handel’s text-setting was always so much to the point that I think the words would have emerged with greater clarity sung in the original.


That, however, is just about the only negative comment I would offer. The Philenus on this occasion was the well-known countertenor Drew Minter, who sings the role also in Nicholas McGegan’s Harmonia Mundi recording of the work, and his evident familiarity with both music and story stood him in good stead in his direction of a thoroughly stylish and often charmingly witty staging. On a sparely but neatly decorated set, moreover, he showed himself no less nimble on his feet than the evening’s presumably much younger two sopranos, all three disporting themselves in a graceful evocation of baroque stage gesture that may or may not have been “authentic” but was in any case a pleasure to watch.


All three voices, at once lyrically appealing and firmly projected, were also more than equal to the demands of Handel’s often taxing line, and there was some discreet but stylish ornamentation in the repeats. I suppose the orchestra’s fairly rigorous avoidance of vibrato, coupled with the singers’ moderate use of it, could have been felt to present a contradictory sound-picture in stylistic terms, but on reflection I came to the conclusion that the effect was probably faithful to 18th-century practice, and in any case, once again, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it.

Purely by chance, this was my first encounter with Tempesta di Mare’s work. It certainly whetted my appetite for more. This is a highly adept group of instrumentalists, and Richard Stone, who also played the archlute (or was his instrument the theorbo?) led the performance with complete technical authority and with excellent judgment in matters of tempo, phrasing, and articulation. Altogether, then, a diverting and often touching evening in the theater.


Bernard Jacobson

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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)