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Thread: Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence

    Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, oratorio in two parts, sung in Italian (first version, 1707)
    Music by Georg Friedrich Haendel (1685-1759)
    Libretto by Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili
    Premiered in Rome, Italy, in 1707


    A new production of the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, with full operatic-style staging, subtitled in English and French
    Théâtre de l'Achevêché, July 1, 4, 5, 6, 9, 12 and 14, 2016 - this review is of the fourth performance on July 6th, also broadcast live on France Musique and France Télévisions on July 6tth.


    Le Concert d'Astrée conducted by Opera Lively interviewee Emmanuelle Haïm
    Stage Direction by Krzysztof Warlikowski
    Sets and Costumes by Malgorzata Szczesniak
    Dramaturg Christian Longchamp
    Lighting by Felice Ross
    Choreography by Claude Bardouil
    Video projections by Denis Guéguin


    Belleza - Sabine Devieilhe
    Piacere - Franco Fagioli
    Disinganno - Sara Mingardo
    Tempo - Opera Lively interviewee Michael Spyres


    Handel composed his first oratorio Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno in Rome at age 22, in a time when opera was forbidden within city limits for being considered scandalous. The young composer had moved to Italy in search of musical and financial success, and soon enough realized that he needed to frequent the important and powerful figures in the city. He was able to impress the 50-year-old Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili (the grandson of Pape Innocent X), a man of strict morals and an author of poetry and pious librettos underlining the smallness of men when in front of God and the Church.

    Il Trionfo is a product of that time when the Roman Catholic Church was extremely powerful and oppressive, and predictably it focus on women and sin, with redemption being achieved through the renouncement of vanity and pleasure.

    Belleza (Beauty), Piacere (Pleasure), Tempo (Time) and Disinganno (Disillusionment, but here with a twist: dis-illusion, the lack of illusion, is equivalent to Truth, which is why in his subsequent versions of the piece, Handel changed the title to The Triumph of Time and Truth) are the sort of mythological "characters" of this oratorio. Beauty if of course a vain young woman who is prone to looking herself in the mirror. She is egged on by Pleasure who advocates for a sensual life of enjoyment. Time however keeps berating the young lady and reminding her that as, well, time goes on, her beauty will fade, and Disillusionment insists that death is the ultimate fate and redemption can be achieved by renouncing pleasure and embracing God. After much back and forth and to Pleasure's great distress, Beauty breaks the mirror and embraces a crucifix, giving herself to Time's and Disillusionment guidance, thus achieving Truth.

    Pleasure's last stance trying to convince Beauty is the spectacular aria for castrato "Lascia la spina" (let go of the thorn and keep the rose), which Handel re-used almost musically unchanged but with different lyrics in Rinaldo, the famous "Lascia ch'io pianga."

    Handel re-worked this oratorio at age 52 and then again at age 72 (in 1757), when almost blind, he dictated updates and changes to his student John Christopher Smith; changing the libretto to English and updating the title as above. Therefore, given that this was done after Jephtha, Il Trionfo is both Handel's first and last oratorios.

    Musically the work is very delicate and sublime, and in Handel's opportunism and eagerness to please, the form is quite Italianate, with several trio forms with a line for a solitary violin, a line for bass, and a line for the voice. The way the melodies are developed are very Italian, with the typical harmonic rhythm and vitality.

    At some point in the relatively near future we will be publishing our gorgeous exclusive interview with conductor Emmanuelle Haïm where she treats us to a detailed musical analysis of the piece, so I'll stop here regarding the musical structure, in favor of her much more qualified voice.

    Let's talk about this staging by the brilliant Krzysztof Warlikowski. It was quite powerful. His inspiration was Sarah Kane, the influential playwright whose plays underline how human relations (particularly the ones that involve matters of love and sex) are marked by violence, manipulation, and death. Kane killed herself in 1999, and Warlikowski had Belleza commit suicide at the end of the show.

    Probably in a homage to the playwright, the sets were a sort of play within the play, given that they are made of theatrical seats facing the real public, and silent supras come and go, sit on the chairs, and observe the action. The stage director also makes reference to a movie (After.Life by Polish-American filmmaker Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo) that depicts a young woman in a place between life and death, and the allegory of the theater facing the public seems to point to this movie. On intermission there is a clip with Jacques Derrida talking about ghosts - again, Belleza is between her mundane life on Earth and getting ready to attain an ethereal state, ghost-like, upon giving herself to God in her death. Regarding these silent spectators, at times they all close their eyes as if focusing on the sublime music. At times they cry. Most of the time they look somber and depressed. They are all young with two exceptions, all female again with one exception, and they are dressed in the typical contemporary attire that slightly vulgar young women would wear when clubbing. By the way, the production opens with video projections of young people dancing in a night club. They kiss, take drugs like ecstasy, the main character is seen in the video accidentally overdosing and being rushed to a hospital - her boyfriend who also overdoses, dies. This all goes on during the overture, and then she is seen on the left side of the theater, outside of the stage, flanked by a nurse, presumably admitted to a drug rehab center. She starts singing, and a camera captures her image and projects it on the back of the stage. At the end of this opening aria (all of this is done to great theatrical effect), she enters the stage and is joined by the other three characters.

    Tempo and Disinganno look like parents. The young woman appears despondent and angry almost the entire time, with her make-up running. The changes dresses a couple of time, between more revealing party gowns when she is inclined to Piacere's side, and more modest jeans/T-shirt when Tempo and Disinganno are more able to influence her. She throws tantrums when she is rebelling against the parental figures, tries to leave (but bumps into closed doors). She finally gets resigned to her fate, breaks the mirror, changes again into a white and modest gown (a symbol of purity), smokes a last cigarette (like a condemned person's last wish), and while the music sings of giving herself to God, she slashes her own wrists.

    The middle of the stage has a glass structure that looks like a transparent elevator cage (it is supposed to be a sort of tunnel leading to the after-life), in which we see youngsters initially dancing rock-and-roll, and as the piece becomes somber and gloomier, they just go in and out of it to take their seats, or alternatively crowd themselves inside it (as in a caged youth with nowhere to go).

    The symbolism in this staging is quite simple but it is nevertheless effective, matching well the conflicts in the libretto between pleasure and morals, life and death, and impulses versus wisdom. It is also visually compelling and very touching. Blocking is solemn and ponderous. Lighting is straightforward with not much variation, basically just the lit scenes with a couple of exceptions in which one side of the stage is darkened.

    Acting by the four characters was very accomplished. Piacere was depicted as a sort of debauched dandy. Tempo was appropriately somber and authoritarian. Disinganno was motherly and with more empathy for the young woman, who of course was the image of despair. All four artists conveyed these traits very well, with huge kudos to Sabine Devieilhe who truly conveyed pathos with rather extraordinary acting. The scene where she slashes her wrists is particularly poignant. Again video cameras capture her image and project her face on the back of the stage so we can follow every facial expression. The moment when she cuts herself is done with such perfection that one almost believes the young singer actually did it. She trembles and utters a moan that is utterly convinced, sending some shock waves into the audience.

    Singing by Sabine was out-of-this-world, tour-de-force grade. This artist while having accumulated already some significant experience, is still in the first stage of her career, and she is definitely one to be watched. She is a product of Aix, having been a student at the festival's Academy.

    Michael Spyres was great. After having interviewed him for the longest of times (it was perhaps Opera Lively's longest interview to date) a few years back in Chapel Hill, I've experienced pleasure watching from a distance his career develop so nicely (including, watching some good DVDs with him), and seeing in person his outstanding performance on the prestigious Aix stage was thrilling. At the backstage reception I was able to chat with Michael and compliment him on his career progression.

    I wasn't quite thrilled with Franco Fagioli as I thought I would be, for most of the oratorio. It is true that my favorite Philippe Jaroussky sets the bar so high for countertenors that at times I have trouble acknowledging others. Still, when he hit "Lascia la spina," it was very ethereal and very beautiful. I remember that during the aria I looked up to the starry sky (the Théâtre de l'Archevêché is open air) and thought I was in paradise.

    Sara Mingardo of course brings to this production her vast experience and her beautiful, silky contralto voice.

    Le Concert d'Astree was pretty much perfect. This period ensemble founded and conducted by Emmanuella Haïm is quite exquisite, and actually I found them better than yesterday's Freiburger Barockorchester. It is hard to compare two orchestras based on only one performance by each, and everybody can have a weaker day so I'm not necessarily putting down the Freiburger Barockorchester which did a great job yesterday - both orchestras are technically very precise. I'm just saying that subjectively speaking, I thought that Le Concert d'Astree just sounded better.

    Emmanuelle conducts with great passion. I'm a fan for life, after our interview this morning. She is intelligent, articulate, erudite, knowledgeable, and at the same time accessible and humble. We had a great chat after the performance backstage and took a souvenir picture. I'm happy with counting on such an outstanding conductor as one of Opera Lively's interviewees.

    I didn't grant separate scores to the various elements above like I usually do - it's simply because mostly everything was the "as good as it gets" category, with only some minor flaws. I grant to this show an overall score of A+.

    This ends the main stage reviews for the Aix festival. All numerous interviews have been completed and they are fabulous! Stay tuned for when they get transcribed and published; they add great depth to the understanding of these three pieces.

    I will still attend one more event in Aix, a Rossini recital with three award-winning students of the Academy, then I'll be going to Milan, Berlin, and Paris, and will be carrying the fondest memories of this spectacular festival.

    Let's end this review with production pictures, gently sent to us by the Bureau de Presse, all credited to Pascal Victor. Do click on our Aix-en-Provence coverage portal [here] for more reviews and pictorial blogs.

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    Sabine inside the glass structure and on screen; Franco standing, Sara, and Michael on the table
    Photo Pascal Victor

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    Sabine on the left, in second row Michael and Sara, and supras (spectators)
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    Michael and Sabine, a supra
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    Sabine and Franco
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    Sabine inside the glass structure with supras
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    Sabine taking medications during her rehab recovery
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    A better view of the full stage
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    Sabine in rehab
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    The last cigarette
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    After she slices her wrists
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    Curtain calls - Sara, Sabrine, Emmanuelle, Franco, and Michael
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    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); July 8th, 2016 at 01:10 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    Please note that those of us not in Aix can watch this on Culturebox or Medici

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