Haendel dyptich in De Munt, Brussels

Tamerlano3_2005_1600x900Two operas by Haendel were given on two consecutive evenings in Brussels, Tamerlano and Alcina, both staged, directed and conducted by the same team. I did’t enjoy Tamerlano half as much as Alcina. Andronico (Delphine Galou) didn’t show a very colorful voice especially approaching the low register but has a good coloratura as shown by the aria “Piu d’una tigre altero“. Jeremy Ovenden as Bajazet is far too short in the lower register to properly sing some of his arias, some of the notes are just not there anymore. With his unrefined singing I find him quite misplaced in baroque. Musically much better I find Sophie Karthauser as Asteria although i missed a proper characterisation of her role. I much enjoyed Ann Hallenberg as Irene and Christoph Dumaux as Tamerlano. Both showed affinity with the baroque style, an even and warm voice, and decent coloratura.
The cast of Alcina was in average much better and homogeneous. Above all the Alcina of Sandrine Piau, who, although with good runs and trials, excelled especially in the lyrical and slower passages. I much enjoyed the rest of the cast and although not perfect, the team spirit sparked life to the score. The only big disappointment : the precious little interest the singers gave to Italian pronunciation. With subtitles that were turned off for the da capo part, it would have been nice to understand some of the text. Hélas.

Both operas were well directed by Christophe Rousset. Staging was a bit monotone in Tamerlano with narrowing panels on both sides of the stage to give a perspective depth. The same panels are used for Alcina (with foliage this time) with as only prop the same chair as in Tamerlano. And same descent of clouds shortly before the end. A change of set came 20 min before the end: the panels disappeared and wooden boxes remained on wooden floor all in warm colours and timeless white clothing. This staging by Pierre Audi was originally conceived for the famous Baroque theater in Drottningholm, which still uses original decors. But overall it was bit boring, considering that baroque operas are hard to listen to with their endless sequence of recitativo and aria (and even more so Haendel, who was rarely inspired in the orchestral part, unlike Vivaldi). So a visual activity in sets would have been welcome (and which was surely intended in Haendel’s time thanks to the famous theatre machinery). Pierre Audi’s stage directions were very varied with people entering and exiting frequently, easing some of the monotony. The question remains to why such operas like Tamerlano and Alcina should be played with the same set as they have little in common.

Tamerlano: Conductor-Christophe Rousset, Director-Pierre Audi, Set design & costumes-Patrick Kinmonth, Lighting-Matthew Richardson, Tamerlano-Christoph Dumaux, Bajazete-Jeremy Ovenden, Asteria-Sophie Karthäuser, Andronico-Delphine Galou, Irene-Ann Hallenberg, Leone-Nathan Berg, Zaide-Caroline D’Haese
Alcina: Conductor-Christophe Rousset, Director-Pierre Audi, Set design & costumes-Patrick Kinmonth, Lighting-Matthew Richardson, Alcina-Sandrine Piau, Ruggiero-Maite Beaumont, Bradamante-Angelique Noldus, Morgana-Sabina Puertolas, Oberto-Chloé Briot, Oronte-Daniel Behle, Melisso-Giovanni Furlanetto, Astolfo-Edouard Higuet

Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno @ Stadttheater Bern


What music I find most boring? Anything by Wagner and Haendel, really. However, I can imagine that the whole baroque machinery might take the drag off: Dolphin-drawn sun chariots, ocean waves, thunderstorms and lightnings, a herd of cherubs descending from heaven, sea monsters, floods. Also, singers were able to wildly vary the da capo sections, dresses were stupendous and spectacular.

During that time.

What do we hear and see today? Regietheaters, Wilsons and wanna-be’s and their lame pantomimes, unimaginative and lifeless shows. Singers without a hint of fantasy, or unable to master two rapid notes in sequence. This is why Haendel to me is but a snore (I suppose not only to me as the theatre was only half full).

Haendel was 22 when he composed the oratorio to this allegorically-charged text (by no less than cardinal Benedetto Pamphili) in 1707. The plot is quite simple: Beauty (Bellezza) realizes she will not remain beautiful forever but Pleasure (Piacere) assures her she will, so Beauty swears eternal fidelity to Pleasure. But Time and Disillusion (Tempo e Disinganno) start a moral and philosophical dispute to lure Beauty into their world of penitence rejecting Pleasure.

In Bern we see staged the ideas of enfant-terrible Calixto Bieito, who is shocking to some, crazy to others, weird to most. He is original, to say the least. Bieito keeps the allegorical character, but his very personal way: a fun fair represents life in which the characters interact, where Pleasure gives herself over to the pleasures of life (shopping, smoking, sapphic love, copulation with Beauty, etc), where Disillusion cuts herself to bleeding wounds, where pleasure gives teddy bears as presents to children on the carousel under a rain of colours in a vortex of joy etc etc.

STAATSOPER STUTTGART "Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno"

Bieto has an interesting, never obscene, point of view. You don’t have to accept it. But if you are able to get into his world, you swallow the meager text much more easily. And without his staging this opera-evening would just be an expensive nap.

The singers, unfortunately, are not up to the baroque style. When they are not covered by the orchestra one can hear a very inadequate coloratura so that the da capo arias are like watching paint dry. A real drag and the evening passes only thanks to Bieito’s spirited and stimulating staging.

The orchestra articulates poorly and the director is probably not much more inspired by the music as I am: all sounds dull, dreary, lethargic and insipid.

Musikalische Leitung -Sébastien Rouland, Regie-Calixto Bieito, Bühne-Susanne Gschwender, Kostüme-Anna Eiermann, Licht-Reinhard Traub, Dramaturgie-Xavier Zuber, Bellezza-Hélène Le Corre, Piacere-Christina Daletska, Disinganno-Maria Prudenskaja, Tempo-Charles Workman

Bern 12/6/13