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Teseo - Handel [UK Import]
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G.F. Händel "Teseo" Gesamtaufn. Italienisch Schlosstheater Potsdam 2004. Jacek Laszczkowski, Martin Wölfe, Sharon Rostorf-Zamir u.a. Lautten-Compagney Berlin/Wolfgang Katschner. statt 38,99 € nur 7,99 € 144 Min. FSK 0. PCM Stereo. Arthaus Musik. 2005. DVD.
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This production employs a stylized classical setting but endeavors to give the characters real emotions and personalities. A key element of the strategy is assigning the major male roles to countertenors. (One was originally written for an alto.) Although the men sometimes lack vocal precision, they make the amorous interests much more believable. A bit of playful humor also adds humanity to the characters and keeps the proceedings from getting too serious without turning them into farce.
By all accounts, the central character and the star of this performance is the sorceress Medea. Maria Riccarda Wesseling sings and acts to perfection, fully conveying the regret, rage, and love that the role embodies. A suitably odd-looking band of demons gives form to Medea's emotions and effectively carries out her magical spells.
Overall, a very satisfying production. (The English subtitles, however, are poorly translated.)
by Brian J. Hay
There are a few things about this release that are annoying right off the bat. But it's worth the effort to wade through them. The production is an extremely good one and the orchestral performance is great. The Lautten Compangney Berlin (whom I'd never heard of) is as good a period instrument ensemble as can be found anywhere. Their playing (under the baton of one of their founders Wolfgang Katschner) is tight but relaxed at the same time. Everything sounds effortless. And everything they do supports the singing well.
The singers (again, nobody I'd ever heard of) are all excellent. The men, all countertenors, are well suited to their roles. Martin Wölfell uses the shadings in his voice to portray the fallibility of Egeo. Thomas Diestler brings a full measure of humanity to the role of Arcanus. He also gets one of the funniest moments in the piece and he uses his voice to tremendous advantage to play it for all its worth. Jacek Laszkowski fills the role of Teseo with force and fury needed for the part and with more than enough tenderness to be believable as a saddened lover. I've never been a fan of countertenors but these three men opened my eyes. They're all great.
The three ladies are exceptional as well. Miriam Meyer has a bell like soprano voice. It's lovely and clear. Sharon Rostorf-Zamir has a gentle soprano that belies her raw power. Maria Riccarda Wesseling is a stunning mezzo-soprano. Her voice is powerful but also capable of great subtlety. She and Sharon Rostorf-Zamir are the standouts in this production. But the entire cast is very good. The music that Handel wrote for this work is extremely difficult to sing. All of the parts have a lot of coloratura passages that are as difficult as they sound. This cast pulls them off beautifully.
The staging (though a little bizarre at times is extremely) is effective. The cast is used for symbolism as well as interaction. When Medea (for instance) is shown but not singing or interacting in any way it's intended to show how her hand plays a role in what's going on. The Director, Alex Köhler, makes extensive use of devices such as but is careful to do so during the later stages when the audience should have an understanding of the piece. The work is set in ancient Greece but the costumes hearken (more or less) toward the time of the composer. It doesn't hurt the production. Medea's wardrobe is from somewhere else. More than anything else it seems intended to portray the feral aspect of her nature. It works and it works well. The animalistic side of her personality is always as close to the surface as her ruthlessness and vulnerability. That's a tribute to the abilities of Stage designer Stephan Dietrich, Maria Riccarda Wesseling and the man who put it all to music, George Frideric Handel.
The music is good, but it's not Handel's best. It was written about four or five years after Agrippina, the work thought to be his first masterpiece. His sense of melodic structure was well formed by that time but his scoring became far more fluid over the years. His sense of structure for complete works improved greatly as well. That doesn't mean this is bad--it's anything but. But be warned. It's not up to the calibre of Guilio Cesare.
All of the problems with this issue are on the technical end (which cost it one star). The sound is good but not quite what it should be. There is one aria ("Amarti si vorrei, il ciel, il ciel lo sé") that's sung to lute accompaniment only. The lute isn't prominent enough. The problem there is with the mix. The sound on the rest of the disc is good. The special features are a mixed bag. The synopsis is utter necessity. Anyone who begins watching this thing without looking at it is going be lost. No credits are shown at the beginning of the production and the librettist (Niccolo Francesco Haym) was kind enough to introduce the first two characters without using their names. "Score plus", offers the option of watching the score or the feature, not both. I can't read music but I did look to see what it was like. The overlay that shows the score is almost opaque.
The other glitches are even more annoying. This DVD jumps straight to the production. And it's counterproductive. The main menu offers an array of choices. And they aren't straightforward either. The first page lists the five languages available for subtitles. Selecting one brings up the main menu (and raises the question as to why that's not on the first page). The third menu provides the act listings while each of those leads to individual track choices. That's fine but the method for moving back isn't clear. The problem lies with the layout of the page. The listings for the main menu and resumption of the movie blend in to the scenery too easily. Their positioning is good but they don't draw the eye. To be fair, once "through it all" everything is straightforward. But first impressions do count for a lot. I prefer to set the audio and subtitles up before moving on to the production. Having to back things up and then navigate through a confounding mess the first time around was just an exercise in frustration.
These are minor complaints. This production is excellent and the singing and playing is as good as can be found. This release along with other productions I've seen (and sometimes reviewed) also suggests that the best singers and orchestras may be more active on stage than in the studio. Certainly the ensemble here is as good as almost any that show up on CD. It's food for thought. This is a "must have" for anyone who enjoys Handel's operatic work.
This musically thrilling production of Handel's Teseo, staged in the restored small New Palace theater in Potsdam, is neither opulent nor glamorous. The sets are barren of imagination and the costumes are cheesy. Worse yet ... and I'm somewhat embarrassed to make a point of it ... the two 'leading ladies' are frightfully unattractive and implausible as actresses in roles that call for sexual allure. What distresses me about my reaction is that they both sing quite artfully. All the singing in this production ranges from good to superb, with only Thomas Diestler (Arcane) falling short. Diestler's vocal control is adequate but his voice simply doesn't please my ears. On the other hand, Martin Wölfel (Egeo) both sings and acts with exquisite subtlety; I'd love to hear/watch him in the role of Nerone in Monteverdi's Incoronazione di Poppea. Jacek Laszczkowski (sic) sings the role of Theseus creditably. All three male roles, by the way, are 'soprano' in tessitura, as are all three female roles; there was never a tenor or bass to be found in Handel's Athens! A previous reviewer has suggested that Handel had a off day when he composed Teseo -- that the music, in other words, isn't as exciting as in some of his other operas. Frankly, I don't agree, but perhaps I'm an 'easy sell' for baroque flamboyance. The duet between Teseo and Agilea, near the end of the opera, is an extraordinary tour de force of composition, even for Handel, and the two singers bring it off very effectively. Everyone seems to agree that the most outstanding feature of this performance is the job done by the 'original' instruments of the orchestra, the Lautten Compagney Berlin, conducted by Wolfgang Katschner. It's the piquant timbres of the baroque reeds and the 'transparency' of baroque performance practices that make this orchestral support for the singers so satisfying. Yes, the musical values ARE fine enough in this production to make it worthwhile despite the less-than-luscious visuals. And fortunately, the sound quality is quite good. Fair warning, however: if you can, choose your subtitles in German or Italian; the English subtitles are worthy of a menu in a rural cafe in Laos or Bolivia.
I have one other hesitation about this staging. I don't like the hammy humor that crops up now and then. "Teseo" is a bloody melodramatic portrayal of one of the darkest of ancient Greek tragedies. Handel and every other baroque composer -- abetted by their librettists of course -- could and did treat their Greco-Roman story lines as farce if they chose; Handel's "Rinaldo" is clearly such a choice. But "Teseo" is earnestly tragic despite its unwarranted 'happy ending', one of Handel's darkest 'psychological' depictions of human nature. Yeah, I know, irreverence sells tickets, but in this case I found the campy bits cheap and distracting.