Wednesday, July 6, 2016


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.

**** (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. 

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