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Handel, Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno: Soloists,  Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid. Conductor: Paul McCreesh. Teatro Real de Madrid. 2 & 5.11.2008 (JMI)

Production Opernhaus Zurich.

Director. Júrgen Flimm
Sets: Erich Wonder
Costumes: Florence von Gerkan.
Lighting: Martin Gebhardt.


Bellezza: Isabel Rey
Piacere: Vivica Genaux/Anna Bonitatibus
Tempo: Steve Davislim/Kobie Van Rensburg
Disinganno: Marijana Mijanovic/Romina Basso

In the last few years there has been a growing interest from directors in offering staged versions of works  never conceived for this purpose. One of the latest examples was Berlin Komisch Oper’s offering of Mozart’s Requiem in a stage production by  Sebastián Baumgarten. Such attempts often don’t work, although from time to time they  do, as happened here with this relatively rare Handel oratorio.

All afficionados know that Handel wrote both  operas and oratorios and that some are works with both a plot and a certain amount of  dramatic action (Acis and Galatea, Semele or Theodora, to name but a few). Others however as is the case with Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, have no action but only a kind  of debate between characters representing psychological archetypes more than real people.  Obviously enough, in this sort of case, the difficulties for a stage performance are bigger, although they do leave far more degrees of freedom for the director.

Jürgen Flimm, at present Director of the Salzburg Festival, was commissioned by Opernhaus Zurich to put this oratorio onto the stage some four years ago and he locates  the debate between the four personages (Beauty, Pleasure, Time and Disappointment) in a restaurant,  in the  1940s, very late at night and after an opera performance .  By this means Mr Flimm tries to give life to this oratorio by adding some new allegorical and surreal characters:  death is present, there’s alcohol, drugs, a fashion parade and even an angel on stage. The libretto leaves everything to  Flimm’s imagination, which is actually rather rich.  The stage set has the above mentioned restaurant separated into two parts, a very long  bar  to the right hand and dinner tables to the left,   with room in the middle to work out the discussion and Flimm’s ideas. The lighting is very good and some very attractive costumes complete this original production. Flimm does outstanding work  with the singers and extras, with a beautiful final scene, in which he follows the libretto faithfully ; he then  transforms the elegant  Beauty into a nun for before she sings her  final Aria. It’s an imaginative and engaging production.

Musically, things did not fly high at the  premiere. We are used  to see baroque operas with  great conductors and  wonderful orchestras these days and it is not easy to be pleased with something of a lower standard. Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno was  given at the  Teatro Real four years ago in a concert version by Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre and that is not easy to forget, since it was a kind of  musical miracle. Paul McCreesh and Teatro Real Orchestra are not in the same league sadly. McCreesh is a good conductor, but the reading was generally rather flat  for most of  the opera and only came alive me during  the last 30 . The orchestra is not used to baroque music either and this is a definite handicap. On November 5th however, things were much improved.

Isabel Rey interpreted the most important role, Beauty, in both performances and was something of a disappointment. She sang the role without much emotion and seemed to have vocal problems in the upper register, which was not particularly beautiful. She was at her best in the final aria “Tu del ciel, ministro eletto” for the premiere but also had to sing in the second cast, replacing Ingela Bohlin,  and sadly things worked worse there. To be fair to Ms Rey though, it has to be said tha tthree performances in four days of such a demanding role as La Bellezza would be taxing for anyone.

Vivica Genaux was  Pleasure in the first cast and she proved once again that she is a specialist  in baroque opera, particularly in arias demanding great vocal agility, although he does not reach the quite same high level in pages requiring pure expressiveness. Anna Bonitatibus  also offered a very good performance in the second cast. Not as brilliant in coloratura as Ms Genaux, she produced a great “Lascia la spina, coglie la rosa”, perhaps even better than her predecessor.  Both  singers are clearly worthy of a first cast billing.

The Serbian contralto  Marijana Mijanovic covered the part of Disinganno in the first cast. She is a singer much praised by knowledgeable people although this role might not have found her at her best.  The voice sounded small, particularly in the lower register and with  problematic vocal projection. She seemed to me more suited to studio recording than to live performances, at least in a big house. Romina Basso was much better in the second cast, even though she is not a true contralto. She gave a very convincing interpretation of the role and she deserved to be in the first cast The The Australian tenor Steve Davislim offered a good voice as Il Tempo although with a style not too suited to this repertoire. Kobie Van Rensburg offered a more convincing interpretation, more fitted to the baroque, although lacking some Mr. Davislim’s vocal quality.

Unusually, the Teatro Real had some emptyl seats, even though young people could buy tickets with a 90 % discount. The biggest ovations were for both Pleasures and to Romina Basso. McCreesh and the orchestra had a very  warm reception on November 5. No-one  from the production team was present at the final bows, not even on the night of the premiere

José M Irurzun

Picture © Javier del Real

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