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l Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno

Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

In Review Berlin Tempo hdl 412
Cool elegance: Handel's Trionfo at Berlin's Staatsoper, with Kalna, Workman, Schwartz and Galou
© Hermann & Clärchen Baus 2012

Berlin's early-music fans usually need to wait for their Baroque fix until spring, when René Jacobs and his Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin make their annual appearance at the Staatsoper. This season, there was some Baroque pleasure on tap during the winter, when Jürgen Flimm's staging of Handel's early oratorio Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno became the company's first premiere of 2012 (seen Jan. 15). 

The production was the first by Flimm in his capacity as the house's recently appointed intendant. Flimm, a Regietheater fixture in Europe, is known best in North America for his Fidelio and Salome productions at the Metropolitan Opera. 

Handel was a twenty-two-year-old wunderkind sojourning in Rome when he wrote Trionfo, in 1707. It was a work he revisited at several stages in his career. The final version, revised fifty years later, was translated to English under the title The Triumph of Time and Truth. In this secular allegory, Beauty (Bellezza) is steered clear of a life of hedonistic Pleasure (Piacere) by the twin consciences of Time (Tempo) and Disillusion (Disinganno). 

At the Schiller Theater, the Staatsoper's temporary home until 2014, the work was presented in the original Italian-language version. The four main roles were perfectly cast. Delphine Galou, a French contralto with a frighteningly firm tone, was perhaps the most impressive performer of the evening. Disinganno is a juicy role that highlighted Galou's rich, velvety low range. She used her remarkably full voice and well-oiled technique to surmount the role's technical challenges, including the sustained low notes in "Più non cura valle oscura." 

Spanish soprano Sylvia Schwartz convincingly portrayed Bellezza's conversion from hedonism to modesty with a voice that accommodated a wide range of styles. Her coloratura was spot-on and finely ornamented, while her trembling voice seemed to meld with the mournful oboe obbligato during her legato-based plaint "Io speria." 

The sleazy get-up of Arkansas-born tenor Charles Workman — complete with a ponytail that made him look like actor Julian Sands — didn't interfere with his performance. He was a suave, smooth-voiced Tempo with an impressive reserve of vocal force, although his phrasings in his role's more impressively agile sections could have been a touch more refined. 

The versatile Latvian soprano Inga Kalna, an ensemble member of Hamburg Opera, was especially strong in navigating the generous coloratura runs of Piacere, but she proved equally capable in her quieter moments, such as her nuanced rendition of "Lascia la spina," a plaint better known as "Lascia ch'io pianga," from Rinaldo. (The melody, however, actually comes from an even earlier work of Handel's.)

Presiding over the performance was French Baroque specialist Marc Minkowski. Both the keyboardist and concertmaster wore period garb (white wigs included), a mysterious choice that explained itself when they appeared onstage in Act II. Aside from that, there were plenty of opportunities for the musicians to shine, as in the generous obbligatos, for which the soloists often stood up in the pit. Minkowski, by turns energetic and restrained, teased a well-rounded performance from his virtuoso ensemble, Les Musiciens du Louvre– Grenoble. 

The staging, first seen in Zürich in 2003 and credited here to Flimm and Gudrun Hartmann, had a cool elegance that recalled European "art" films of the 1980s, an era in cinema whose baroque sensibility harmonized with the ornamental sophistication of Handel's score. The saturated color scheme, the opulent costumes by Florence von Gerkan and the single set by Erich Wonder — the bar and dining room of an upscale restaurant — added to this impression by evoking the sumptuousness of Peter Greenaway's 1989 film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. The action of the staging itself was occasionally impenetrable — just who were the various sailors, bums, peddlers and junkies who kept entering and exiting the restaurant, and why did that lone barfly spontaneously combust at the very end? But given the remarkable musicianship and vocal finesse on offer, Flimm's slips in dramatic focus didn't seem to matter much. spacer


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