Saturday, July 23, 2016

THE PERSIANS - REVIEW OF THEATRE OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES PRODUCTION IN ATHENS

James Karas

Author                         Aeschylus
Director & Translator   Vasilis Economou
Set Design                  Despina Flessa 
Costumes                    Sofia Stavrakaki 
Sign Language            Theodora Tsapoiti
Musical Direction         Alexandros Kapsokavadis 

Atossa                         Christina Toumba and Christina Tsavli
Darius                          Panos Zournatzidis
Messenger                  Mihalis Tamboukas
Xerxes                         Vasilis Economou
Chorus                        Yiota Vei (Leader), Aimiliani Avraam, Mihalis Grammatas,
                                    Yorgos Iliakis, Maria Mourelatou, Marina Stamati,
Mary Stamatoula, Efi Toumba
Percussion Players     Makis Souleles, Alexandros Chantzaras

Played on July 13 and 14, 2016 at the Nea Skini of the National Theatre of Greece. Athens. www.distheater.gr

**** (out of five)

Choice 1: Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes and dozens of other sun-drenched islands.

Choice 2: Plays by Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, Sophocles, Becket and dozens of other authors in all major cultural fields available in Athens, Epidaurus and other venues around Greece. What you can you get Ancient Greek drama, classical and modern music, international theatre, dance, Broadway musicals, opera and films. And that is just a short list.

You need to choose. Is it Choice 1 or 2? Now don’t be hasty.

Don’t be hasty. Think where you want to spend your vacation. I said think!      

The Persians of Aeschylus has the distinction of being the earliest surviving play of the Western canon. It also has the unique distinction of being produced by Theatre of People with a Disability at National Theatre of Greece in Athens. I am translating the name of the troupe from the Greek Theatro Atomon me Anapiria literally. All of the actors may have challenges but their performances are stellar.

The production is performed in the small New Stage on the second floor of the splendid building of the National Theatre of Greece in Athens.  Vasilis Economic directs his translation of the play taking some liberties with the text and adding some songs

The performance is done in the generous space of the New Stage with no stage props. The black stage and black background with good use of lighting, drums and some other percussion instruments is all that is needed to dramatize the state of the defeated Persians after the Battle of Salamis.

Economic opens the play with drum beats as the Chorus of men and women, some on wheelchairs, appear. A woman with her whole body covered by a veil appears and sings a cappella a moving dirge. She is Yiota Vei, the Chorus Leader who will sing several other chants that are not in Aeschylus’s play as far as I can tell. Her voice is strong and moving initially but it does begin to crack by the end.

The Chorus of Persian Elders begins chanting the names of the leaders of the Persian expedition (again not in the text). At the end of this chant we hear the words of Aeschylus’s text spoken by the Chorus.

Economic makes intelligent use of the Chorus. Some of them are in wheelchairs and some have other disabilities but they can all move and do so. There is a choreographed segment where the one half of the Chorus lunges towards the other half as if they are at war. The choral sections are spoken or recited by different members and they wail some lamentations at the fate of their countrymen who were decimated by the Greeks.

Atossa, the Queen of Xerxes, plays a central role in the play. Economou has two actors play the part. One is the regal and statuesque Queen who is silent and the other is Atossa in a bright red dress, in a wheelchair, who speaks the lines. The roles are played by Christina Toumba and Christina Tsavli.  The speaking Atossa has a minor speech impediment but she spoke and enunciated her lines movingly.

The Messenger (Mihalis Tamboukas) has the task of describing in some detail the events in Greece that resulted in the annihilation of the Persian forces. In this role you need forceful and measured delivery with sufficient modulation to keep the news coming. He does.

The Ghost of Darius is played by Panos Zournatzidis and here we have smoke and flames rising from the rear of the stage. Darius is coming from Hades and he wisely judges that his son committed acts of sacrilege against the gods. He instructs Atossa to give Xerxes new armour to change into from the torn one and to comfort him in his distress.    

Finally the beaten and war-torn and defeated Xerxes (Economou) appears. He has lost his companions and must report their deaths to the Chorus. A moving scene. 

Alexandros Kapsokavadis directs the percussion players who produced a lot with very little. The performance was signed for the hearing challenged.

This is a taut, spare and highly effective production. It is astonishing how much one can do with an Ancient Greek tragedy with a fine troupe intelligently directed.

Let’s get back to your vacation. You go to a Greek island and are enthralled by its beauty. That lasts for a good two hours. Now what? You park your torso on the sand, end up sunburned and bored out of your mind. If you were in Athens you could go to the theatre, visit museums, eat well and never be bored. Don’t miss that boat back to civilization.  


Friday, July 22, 2016

ANTIGONE - REVIEW OF 2016 EPIDAURUS PRODUCTION

James Karas

Author                         Sophocles
Translator                    Dimitris Maronitis
Director                       Stathis Livathinos
Sets and costumes     Eleni Manolopoulou
Music                           Charalambos Gogios

Antigone                     Anastasia-Rafaela Konidi
Ismene                        Dimitra Vlagopoulou               
Sentry                         Antonis Katsaris  
Haemon                      Vasilis Magouliots
Tiresias                       Betty Arvaniti
Euridice                       Stela Fyrogeni
First Messenger          Giannis Harisis
Second Messenger     Asteris Peltekis
Chorus: Kostas Kastanas, Nikos Bousdoukos, Maria Skountzou,
Asteris Peltekis, Giannis Harisis.
           
Performed at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus on July 15 & 16, 2016 and then on tour around Greece and Cyprus until September 30, 2016. www.n-t.gr .

*** (out of five)

The National Theatre of Greece has mounted a major production of Sophocles’ Antigone the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus. Stathis Livathinos, the Artistic Director of the National directs the production with some mixed results.

Livathinos makes the strong-willed Antigone a high school student who is impetuous, passionate and self-righteous. Anastasia-Rafaela Konidi gives a performance that fits that description. Initially she wears a black dress with a white collar, the traditional uniform of high school girls in Greece. In the end she puts on a bridal veil as she approaches her death.  This Antigone starts as a young girl and dies as a tower of strength and resistance. A stellar performance by Konidi.
Dimitris Lignadis is a powerful, dictatorial, blustering Creon. Like all dictators, he is convinced that he knows best and that he is right about everything. That is the Creon that Lignadis delivers.  He wears a crown and a cape as he struts around the spacious playing area of the theatre.

Dimitra Vlagopoulou as Ismene displays what some may call cowardice, others common sense, but she does almost rise to her sister’s status by pretending that she took part in her brother’s burial when in fact she did not. Good work by Vlagopulou.

The Sentry played by Antonis Katsaris in a ragged officer’s uniform is a scared man who must deliver bad news. He is entertaining as he struts around uneasily trying to save his skin and describe what he saw.

Creon’s son Haemon (Vassilis Magouliotis) rises from obedient son to thinking citizen (and gets a round of applause from an audience sensitive to dictatorial rule).    

The role of Tiresias, who is both a man and a woman, is played by Betty Arvaniti, as both a man and a woman. Stela Fyrogeni is moving as Creon’s bitter wife.

A key question in every production of Ancient Greek Tragedy is the use of the Chorus. We don’t know much about what they did in Ancient Greece but there is general agreement that they spoke, chanted or sang some of the verses written for them and probably danced. What does Livathinos do? He just about gets rid of the Chorus.

He reduces the Chorus of Theban Elders to five people, 4 men and 1 woman, and adds 4 Theban Girls, who are high school students. We know that because one of the Chorus Leaders “teaches” the girls the events leading up to the play. We will see the girls a number of times and they will do some more singing but the question of “what the hell are they doing on stage?” never quite left me.

The adult Chorus usually speak their lines as if they are all just characters in the play. In other words, the most unsatisfactory treatment of the Chorus. 

Charalambos Gogios composed music for a small brass band and I am not sure what effect it was intended to produce. The players, members of the Ventus Ensemble looked like something from a Viennese operetta. They sat on the side of the stage except for one time when they went to the centre of the stage.

The Ancient Theatre with its legendary acoustics provided surtitles in English for tourists. The theatre which holds about 14,000 (estimates vary) was almost full with a very receptive audience. Form the passing visitor to the aficionado, they all want to see “authentic” Greek drama. The National Theatre of Greece gave them a good taste of it for the most part. Livathinos tried to give us his own perspective of the Chorus and that is quite proper. Unfortunately, it did not work.   

Thursday, July 21, 2016

WEST SIDE STORY - REVIEW OF PRODUCTION AT ATHENS CONCERT HALL

James Karas

**** (out of five)

Among the numerous shows offered by the 2016 Athens and Epidaurus Festival, West Side Story may be one of the most desirable especially for aficionados of Broadway musicals. But you have to be in Athens on the right three days. The lucky ones got to see a robust, indeed quite thrilling production of the classic American musical at the gorgeous Athens Concert Hall.

The ads for the production headline the Camerata Orchestra of the Friends of Music and indeed the group and its conductor Yorgos Petrou deserve a large portion of the credit for the success of the production. In addition to conducting, Petrou is credited with translating the dialogue and shares credit with John Todd for directing.


Let’s begin with a salute to Petrou and the Camerata. He conducted with vigour and the orchestra delivered a full-blooded performance of Leonard Bernstein’s varied and stimulating score. The score has some beautiful melodies but much of the music is visceral and simply astounding. If there is one complaint it is that when the orchestra played fortissimo, they almost drowned out the singers. There was a minor issue, in other words, of the balance between pit and stage.      

West Side Story has a rich variety of solo and ensemble singing, dancing and even a ballet sequence. They would tax the resources of the finest theatrical company let alone a largely ad hoc group of performers for only three performances. There may have been some rough edges in the coordination of the dances but overall the Jets and the Sharks, the warring New York gangs of “Americans” and Puerto Ricans, were athletic, realistic and quite good. The ballet sequence was equally well done and enjoyable.

West Side Story is, of course, an American version of Romeo and Juliet in which Tony (Yiannis Kolyvas) falls in love with the lovely Puerto Rican girl Maria (Marina Satti). He is a former Jet and her brother Bernardo (Andreas Voulgaris) is the leader of the Sharks.

Kolyvas represents love, passion and decency. He sings “Maria,” the most beautiful name he ever heard with glee and wonderful emotion. It is not an easy songs but Kolyvas does a fine job with it. His and Satti’s rendition of “Tonight” is equally splendid. When Maria sings “I feel pretty” we agree with her and in the end when tragedy strikes we cry with her.

Marina Satti plays an effective and lovely Maria. When she sings “I feel pretty” no one disagrees with her and when she expresses her love for Tony she has the audience rooting for her. A Maria to love and to cry for.

Eleni Stamidou gets the juicy role of Anita, the Puerto Rican girl who cannot be put down. She defends America with its faults and is a pleasure to watch. Anita is also the woman who is ritually raped by the Jets in the basement of Doc’s drugstore. Her departure is highly dramatic but I wish she had spat on the creeps as she left.

Kostas Koronaios played the sympathetic Doc who watches disgusting behaviour and can do nothing about it. Christos Simardanis was a tough no-nonsense Lt. Schrank and Thodoris Skyftoulis played the ineffectual Officer Krupke.    

Paris Mexis relied on brightly painted panels for his stage design. Part of the stage of the Concert Hall can be moved up and down to create a playing area above for the balcony scene. The New York skyline is shown at times and with Yorgos Tellas’s judicious lighting the effect was colourful and appropriately unrealistic.

Having the cast miked has become almost de rigueur in musicals and sometimes even in straight plays and there is probably nothing we can do about it. The Concert Hall is large and it may be essential to have mikes to go past the pit. But the mikes in this production were taped on the side of the faces of the actors and they looked like unhealthy tumours. Inevitably what we heard was what the loud speakers delivered. There are modern miking systems which have not reached Athens.

Petrou chose quite sensibly to translate the dialogue but let the songs be sung in English. The production generated energy, beautiful singing, fine dancing and had the audience in its metaphorical hands. A thoroughly enjoyable evening at the theatre.
_______

West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein (music) Arthur Laurents (book) and Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) played on July 16, 17 and 18, 2016 in the Alexandra Trianti Hall of the Athens Concert Hall, Vasilissis Sofias Street, Athens, Greece

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

WAITING FOR GODOT – REVIEW OF ATHENS PRODUCTION

James Karas

** (out of five)

When can a number of relatively minor, let us say, infelicities become so cumulatively annoying as to spoil a production? I am not sure I can quantify them but that is what happened in the production of Waiting for Godot which was performed in the courtyard of the Benaki Museum on Peireos Street in Athens.
As the audience slowly sauntered into the 200-seat theatre allowing themselves the statutory Greek 15-monute delay, I heard some unrecognizable music repeating the words Becket or Godot. I try to tune it out. Some sand with bricks in the center of the courtyard will be the main playing area. The famous tree consists of an uprooted stump hanging above the sand.

The two tramps Vladimir (Lazaros Georgakopoulos) and Estragon (Dimitris Bitos) enter and they are wearing clothes that just came back from the cleaner. Their hats are also spick-and-span as is their footwear. These are people who sleep in ditches? The same applies to Pozzo (Antonis Antonopoulos) and Lucky (Aineias Tsamatis).

For some mysterious reason, director Natasa Triantafylli wants us to know that Vladimir and Estrogen are linguistically gifted. Throughout the performance they toss in numerous words and phrases in French and English. A selection: why, what, yes sir, oui monsieur, d’accord, I am happy, look at the tree.
At the end of Act I a voice tells us that the tramps do not move. There is no intermission but we are given the stage directions of “Enter Estragon barefoot.” Do we really need to be told that when it is in front of us and we can all see it? We are treated to an announcement of stage directions as if they were part of the text of the play more than once.

The performance takes place in a small theatre and the actors hardly need to project their voice to be heard by everyone. What does Triantafylli do? She puts mikes on all the actors. These are taped on their cheeks and are perfectly visible. The actors’ voices are heard through loud speakers and at the beginning we also heard an echo. If there is an explanation for this unacceptable move, it escapes me.

Despite all of the above millstones around their necks, Georgakopoulos and Bitos had a good handle on their roles. Godot is or can be a very funny play but somehow in this production they did not manage more than a couple of twitters and not a single laugh.

Antonopoulos underplayed Pozzo and I think he needed to show more viciousness in the first act and more pathos in the second. Tsamatis as Lucky and the Boy did a fine job.

In the end, what should have been relatively minor nuisances individually added up to a disappointing production. Triantafylli, costume designer Ioanna Tsami and music director MONIKA missed a number of details that made for a so-so night at the theatre.
______ 


Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett in a translation by Eri Kyrgia opened on July 14, 2016 and will be performed sixteen times at the Aithrio Mouseiou Benaki, 138 Peireos Street, Athens, Greece.   

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

THE LOVER OF THE SHEPHERDESS - REVIEW OF NATIONAL THEATRE OF NORTHERN GREECE PRODUCTION

James Karas

**** (out of five)

The Lover of the Shepherdess (Ο Αγαπητικός της Βοσκόπουλας) is a classic of the Modern Greek Theater for many good reasons not least of which is the poem and beautiful ballad “I fell in love with a shepherdess.” The National Theatre of Northern Greece delivers the love stories, the rustic humour, the drama, the songs and dances that add up to an amazingly entertaining night at Thessaloniki’s Vassiliko Theatro.

You must know that a very young Mitros (Taxiarhis Hanos) fell hopelessly in love with Maro, a beautiful shepherdess. According to the song, the shepherdess put her hands on his waist and told him that he was too young for the pangs of love. Mitros was crushed.

Twenty years later the play begins. Mitros is searching for Maro, his first and only love. In the meantime we meet Kroustallo (Stavroula Arambatzoglou) the daughter of the widow Stathena (Filareti Komninou) who is in love with Liakos (Orestes Chalkias), the son of the widow Yiannena (Efi Stamouli). Liakos falls in the river but Mitros saves his life. Liakos wants to marry Kroustallo but her mother says no because he is poor.

Dimitrios Koromilas (1850-1898) was a prolific playwright and his 1890 play was written in fifteen syllable verses that are far more fluid than one would imagine. The play is described as a pastoral drama with songs and dances with a considerable serving of comedy. It takes place in a rural village where raising sheep is the main occupation.

Mitros is of a certain age, of course, since he was rejected twenty years ago. He gives a gold chain to Kroustallo and her mother wants her to marry him NOW to get her away from Liakos. My only complaint about Hanos is that he had a tendency to speak too quickly. Koromilas’s verses gain by being spoken with some respect for their meter.

Not that slowly, it dawns on us that the widow Stathena is none other than Mitros’s love Maro whom he does not recognize. Komninou is still attractive as Maro but some of her mannerisms indicated more Kolonaki than Artotina, the village of the play.

Kroustallo is pretty, vivacious, passionate, troubled and deeply in love. We are all rooting for her to get the right man and live happily ever after. Liakos is a relatively minor role but he is handsome, passionate, and sincere and does some high-minded but perhaps stupid things to keep the plot moving. Stamouli as his mother has the most dramatic lines of grief, anger, fear and some heart-felt cursing. The actress does not miss a beat.

On the lighter side, we have Kostas Santas as Chronis, a type of hillbilly character who is a natural comic and never fails to get the laughs. Foulis Boudouroglou plays the minor role of Tsotras and he manages to get laughs with a single word or just a gesture. Gerlas has a nasty side to him but Dimitris Kolovos plays him for laughs and gets them.

The play has over thirty characters which is not a cast but a crowd. They sing some beautiful folk songs, do a number of dances and generate a wonderful atmosphere. Costume and Set Designer Manolis Pantelidakis spares no effort to provide colourful costumes for the men and the women and with that many on stage they provide a show on their own. The set is equally colourful with a number of painted panels being lowered to indicate the village and the home of Maro. The ‘feel” of the production is that of a fairy tale and I think that is the best way to treat the play.

Director Stamatis Fassoulis pays great attention to the colourful unreality of the situation and the setting and wants to enjoy the imaginary world of beautiful shepherdesses, rustic simplicity, faithful love and a happy ending. I could have done with the obvious miking of all the characters. Microphones taped to their cheeks – are they really necessary? Otherwise a superb job. 

The over-all effect of the production was sheer pleasure. Idyllic, pastoral life is embedded in the Greek psyche from ancient mythology to the images of village life in the 19th and 20th centuries however remote from reality. It was a delight to visit that world.
______     

The Lover of the Shepherdess by Dimitrios Koromilas opened on July 1 and will play until September 9, 2016 at the Vassiliko Theatro Thessalonikis  in a production by the National Theatre of Northern Greece. www.ntng.gr

Monday, July 11, 2016

SEVEN AGAINST THEBES - REVIEW OF 2016 NATIONAL THEATRE OF NORTHERN GREECE PRODUCTION

James Karas

Author                         Aeschylus
Translator                    Yorgos Blanas
Director                       Cesaris Graužinis
Sets and costumes     Kenny MacLellan

Eteoclis                       Yannis Stankoglou
Polynices                     Christos Stylianou                  
Messenger                  Giorgos Kafkas 
Herald                         Alexandros Tsakiris
Antigone                      Nantia Kontogeorgi
Ismene                        Iovi Fragatou

Performed at the Dassous Theatre, Thessaloniki on July 6 & 7, 2016 and then in the Ancient Theatre of Philippi and the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus.

***** (out of five)

The National Theatre of Northern Greece has produced a thoughtful, imaginative, finely directed and well-acted production of Aeschylus’s rarely produced play Seven Against Thebes.

The play tells the story of the cursed Royal House of Thebes from the abdication of Oedipus upon finding that he was married to his mother and had two sons by her to start of the tragedy of Antigone. Oedipus’s sons Eteocles and Polynices have agreed to rule Thebes on alternate years. But when Polynices’s turn comes up, Eteocles refuses to give up the throne. Polynices asks for the help of the state of Argos and lays siege on his city.

The production in the Dassous Theatre (Forest Theatre) is directed by Lithuanian director Cezaris Graužinis who puts his own imprint on the play.

Yannis Stankoglou and Christos Stylianou alternate in the roles of Eteocles and Polynices. Polynices is not a character in the play but Graužinis has added him as a silent role for dramatic purposes. The director sees Eteocles as an egotistical dictator, full of bombast and patriotism with some awareness of his family’s curse who knows that both brothers must die. He prays fervently to the gods to save his city, the home of Greeks and a place of worship, from the enemy. He seems to have little conception that he is the direct cause of the attack, that the Argive attackers are also Greek and that Polynices has every right to demand the throne of Thebes. This is a civil war.

Graužinis handles the Chorus of Theban Virgins imaginatively and effectively. They sing, speak separately and in unison, perform some dance routines and end up as a most effective part of the play. There is some musical accompaniment (composed by Dimitris Theoharis) that enhances this superb handling of a difficult part of Greek tragedy.

Giorgos Kafkas has the difficult role of Messenger who must give lengthy descriptions of events. Kafkas delivers his lines with sufficient modulation to keep them interesting without straying into unacceptable intonations. The director helps a great deal, as described below.

Alexandros Tsakiris dressed in while played the Herald, a relatively minor role except near the end when he engages with Antigone.  

The Messenger describes the heroes who lead the Argive forces against the seven gates of Thebes. Eteocles must choose six of the best Thebans and assign a gate to each of them with him taking the seventh gate. Here Graužinis takes over and he illustrates the description of the Thebans leaders. He presents them as comic figures that are creatures more out of burlesque than tragedy. One of them comes out on crutches and a comic helmet, another has a horn in his mouth, another brandishes a sword that he can hardlee handle. This is Aeschylus turned on his head.

A stash of war materiel is emptied from a box - helmets, swords, shields, a shotgun, a drum – and the Chorus and the Theban generals pick them up and do a comic romp. These are the defenders of Thebes.   
   
Near the end, Polynices appears and he fights with his brother. This is the climax of the play and the director’s brilliant invention. Initially they both hold cymbals and then discard them and finally fight by rushing at each other and embracing. The embraces become more violent until the men stop. The two brothers are dead but they are standing up in each other’s arms. A stunning visual representation of the tragedy of the brothers, of the result of civil war and of the fate of the Royal House of Thebes.

At the end Antigone and Ismene, the sisters of Eteocles and Polynices appear. They are represented by two members of the Chorus and the groundwork is laid for Sophocles’ Antigone where she disobeys the order not to bury her brother Polynices. The scene seems to be almost certainly a later interpolation but we may never know how Aeschylus ended his play. What has come down of the Seven is in pretty bad shape and about a third of it is corrupt.  As a result the last part of the play is the least effective. The play is over when the brothers are dead and a choral section would be the appropriate way to end it. Here we get some padding that we could do without but there is not much we can do about the shape of the play now.

The set by Kenny MacLellan consisted of the semi-circle of the stage with a single stool and a couple of ladders. One of the ladders was used for Eteocles to climb on and address the Thebans. The stash of war materiel was the only other props required. The men were dressed in modern suits and the women in simple dresses that may or may not be representative of modern Theban virgins.

Edi Lame’s choreography and movement was imaginative and effective.

The theatre is on a hill and holds almost 3900 spectators and it was about two-thirds full the evening that I was there. They do not so much charge for tickets as give them away. Students, seniors, the unemployed get in for €5. You may have to pay as much as €12, if I am not mistaken!

There are a couple of dozen vendors outside and a few inside the theatre selling food and drinks from bottles of wine to fruits and nuts and Styrofoam mats for sitting on top of the concrete, backless seat. I am not sure if smoking is allowed during the performance, but people puffed freely.

Under the clear, starry sky of Thessaloniki with a cool breeze blowing from the Thermaic Gulf and a superb production of a play, this was a memorable night at the theatre.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

IL TRIONFO DEL TEMPO E DEL DISINGANNO - REVIEW OF 2016 AIX-EN-PROVENCE FESTIVAL PRODUCTION

By James Karas

Composer                   Georg Frideric Handel
Librettist                     Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili
Conductor                   Emmanuelle Haïm
Director                      Krzysztof Warlikowski
Set and costumes        Malgorzata Szczesniak
Dramaturge                 Christian Longchamp
Lighting                      Felice Ross
Choreography             Claude Bardouil
Video                          Denis Guéguin

Bellezza                      Sabine Devieilhe
Piacere                        Franco Fagioli
Disinganno                 Sara Mingardo
Tempo                         Michael Spyres
Orchestra                    Le Concert d’Astrée
Continues at the Théâtre de l'Archevêché until
July 14, 2016 in Aix-en-Provence, France.  http://festival-aix.com/

**** (out of 5)

Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno premiered in Rome in the year of Our Lord 1707, a time when Our Lord’s representative on earth, the Pope, had banned productions of opera in the Eternal City. Handel had music in his blood and composed something that His Holiness would permit: an oratorio. Not just any work on religious themes but a rousingly Catholic promotion piece based on a libretto by Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili.

The title means the triumph of time and enlightenment and the oratorio is an allegory sung by Time, Enlightenment, Beauty and Pleasure. As becomes an oratorio, the four figures debate the virtues and vices of their namesakes and if you have not guessed who will win the argument you will probably end up in Hell.

Director Krzysztof Warlikowski was given this static work and instructed to produce it for an opera festival where listening to Handel’s music and four accomplished singers for two and a half hours may not prove as uplifting as His Eminence hoped for or the audience paid for. As the list of credits indicates, Warlikowski decided to convert the oratorio into an opera.
We start with a video of an orgiastic party. We see young people dancing, drinking, passing out and being taken to the hospital in a wild display of erotic pleasure and decadence. All in modern dress and in today’s decadent world.

The stage of the Théâtre de l'Archevêché is divided by into two banks of seats with a glass enclosure in the middle.

We meet Bellezza (Beauty) admiring herself in the mirror (there is no mirror but who cares) worried that her looks may not last forever but Piacere (Pleasure) assures her that she will always be beautiful. Beauty is dressed in a leather jacket and she looks like she may have been employed in the oldest profession. Pleasure is in a hospital bed and he may not have taken a bath for a while. We are not thrilled by them as representatives of what (most of) our hearts desire.

Tempo (Time) and Disinganno (Enlightenment) arrive to inform us that beauty is fleeting and there are more important virtues. Time looks like he could have just left a doorway in the Cours Mirabeau where he slept and Enlightenment with her fur coat looks like she espoused her new calling because there was not much left of her old attractions. In short, all of the allegorical figures look like wrecks so far.

The ‘illustrated” version of the oratorio provided by the director continues with a good number of beautiful women, stunningly dressed parading in the glass enclosure in the centre of the stage. Was there a man or a woman in the audience who did not say to hell with the moral strictures of Time and Enlightenment, that is where I want or want to be? No doubt, I was the only one.

It should be noted that while the beautiful women are on stage, Time sings about funeral urns which enclose what used to be beauties but who have become ghastly skeletons but at that time he is totally unconvincing. The visual illustrations of pulchritude beat moralizing hands down.

In the second half, Time and Enlightenment spruce up their appearance but they are a long way from convincing to adopt what they say which may not be the same as what they do.

Il Tempo contains a great deal of music and singing and the vocal mettle of the principals is tested and triumphs.

The sermon becomes heavy handed at times. The tears of the poor become pearls in heaven we are told and the oratorio is about saving our soul. The message is never in doubt but in the end it is clearly stated and Beauty repents and sees the true light of God. That is what the text says but this Beauty knows better: she commits suicide.

Seeing a woman conduct an orchestra is still a relative rarity and a continuing disgrace. Emmanuelle Haïm does a brilliant job of conducting Le Concert d’Astrée in Handel’s wonderful score.

Warlikowski took a tough task of converting a preachy oratorio into a superb opera.