A prologue of arias from The Triumph of Time and Truth*
Belezza Gillian Keith (soprano)
Piacere Andrew Watts (alto)
Disinganno William Purefoy (alto)
Tempo Stephen Richardson (baritone)
The Triumph of Beauty & Deceit
Pleasure Andrew Watts (alto)
Truth William Purefoy (alto)
Beauty Christopher Lemmings (tenor)
Deceit Roderick Williams (baritone)
Time Stephen Richardson (baritone)
Nigel Lowery direction & design
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
conducted by Gary Cooper* and Thomas Adès
Handel & Barry together at Almeida Opera - 27 June
Thursday, June 27, 2002 Almeida at Kings Cross, Omega Place, London
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
Levels of reality and illusion aplenty here. Handels Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno (1707) is one of the flamboyant oratorios with which the composer made his name in Rome when still in his early twenties. Theres something of the morality-drama in the way that Beauty opts for union with Pleasure, as against the realities of Time and Truth with Deceit a free agent seeking his own gratification.
The music has the florid virtuosity of Italian-period Handel, the arching flexibility of the vocal parts in tandem with incisive and rarely-accompanying instrumental writing at its most imaginative in Deceits Crede luom with its delicate recorder contribution. Musically the emotional range is wide exemplified by the final pair of arias: Pleasures angry and vengeful Come nembo contrasted with Beautys chaste and spare Tu del ciel with its haunting pizzicato underlay and obbligato violin solo.
The selection of arias was well chosen as an overview of the work, while ensuring proper dramatic contrast. Gillian Keiths Beauty was a model of clarity and grace, while Stephen Richardsons Time impressed in its trenchancy and sense of vulnerability behind the stoicism. The waiting room stage-set and St Trinians-style uniforms at least drew attention to the strength of vocal acting. Gary Cooper directed with vigour and was attentive to the needs of phrasing and the subtle but meaningful dynamic shadings of Handels instrumentation.
Subtlety of dynamics is not something one would outwardly associate with Gerald Barrys The Triumph of Beauty & Deceit. The confrontation between the qualities represented by the protagonists is more visceral, vocal writing often reduced to a seething confrontation of conflicting lines. The urging at times simultaneous to fulfilment and destruction is played out in graphic and violent terms, though with a dry and sometimes grating humour familiar from other Barry works.
It was here that Nigel Lowerys designs really came into their own, above all in the differentiation of character-types. Stephen Richardsons dour, totemic Time; William Purefoys evangelist Truth; Andrew Wattss on the make Pleasure; Roderick Williamss alternately fun-loving and suicidal Deceit; and Christopher Lemmingss traversal from the ravishing to the ravaged as Beauty. Thomas Adès articulated the fast-moving score a succession of intricate canons and ostinatos, interspersed with toccata-like interludes where the ensemble really lets rip so that the pace never flagged. Meredith Oakess libretto, chock-full of wordplay and innuendo, was fully and necessarily surtitled.
In its drawing parallels of the then as now as regards human morality and fallibility, this is as finely matched a double-bill as one could hope for.