The Triumph of Time

Handel – Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno

Bellezza – Judith Gauthier

Piacere – Ezgi Kutlu

Disinganno – Marina Prudenskaja

Tempo – Charles Workman

Staatsorchester Stuttgart / Sébastien Rouland. Stage Director – Calixto Bieito. Staatstheater Stuttgart, Friday June 17th, 2011.

Tonight was my first visit to the Stuttgart Staatsoper. It’s a beautiful theatre with a terrific acoustic and while the seat prices aren’t quite as reasonable as those in the Berlin theatres they are still very reasonable by London standards. I attended a performance of the new production by Calixto Bieito of Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno. I find this piece has wonderful moments but I always feel that it’s not quite top drawer Handel.

Tomorrow I’ll be attending a performance of Mahler 8th in Baden-Baden. Mahler always tried to encapsulate the entire world in his symphonies and this is what Calixto Bieito succeeded in doing tonight. Some people balk at the idea of a Bieito production but I think the guy is a genius. His Ballo in maschera has spoiled me from seeing other productions for life – they will never match up to it. His Armida and his Carmen are both superb and his Don Giovanni really manages to make the piece fresh and relevant to today. What tonight’s production succeeded in doing was giving the viewer a journey through life, from the pain to the joy to a sense of resignation and completeness. It is in fact an incredible piece of theatre. It acknowledges the fact that nothing stays beautiful for ever and that time dominates everything; that pleasure is merely a fleeting but physically enjoyable experience and that disillusion is always healed by time. I’m sure that some audience members won’t be able to get over the simulated lady masturbation, the strangulation and the nudity – the usual things one expects in a Bieito show – but if they can’t see beyond that they really are missing out. In short, it is a thought-provoking and challenging show.

It was also fantastically played and sung. Bieito and Sébastien Rouland have assembled a cast of the top-drawer singer-actors. They need to be physically fit for a Bieito production and he had one of them running laps around the stage. He is a very physical director but everything he does is musical and the cast were able to provide technically impeccable performances despite the physically demanding staging. Yes there were a couple of missed entries and wrong notes but I have not doubt that these are thing that will improve over the run.

Charles Workman’s voice is much larger than one expects in this music but there was no loss of agility. He was completely fluent throughout the range and the music held no terrors for him. His was certainly the most complete performance musically. Marina Prudenskaja was a surprise choice for Disinganno. Her repertoire includes roles such as Amneris, Brangäne, Rosina and Waltraute. Despite this large repertoire her voice was remarkably agile and she had a wonderfully warm lower register. Ezgi Kutlu’s Piacere was dramatically a tour de force, tossing out brilliant coloratura while simulating masturbation, dancing in a showgirls outfit, carrying a large number of designer label shopping bags and generally lezzing it up with Bellezza. If I were to be extra critical I would say that ‘lascia la spina’ was squally rather than spellbinding and her final aria went a bit pear-shaped but she was expected to dance like crazy with a massive headdress on. Judith Gauthier’s Bellezza of course has the best tune ‘tu del ciel ministro eletto’ which is probably the most sublime music that Handel ever wrote. She delivered it in a crystal clear soprano with the most stunning legato all while stripping down to her smalls and undressing Tempo. In fact, I think it’s one of the best renditions of that aria I have ever heard. Elsewhere I found that she didn’t quite have the weight of voice to dominate ‘voglio tempo’ but her duet with Piacere was stunning. Both she and Kutlu are certainly singers to watch.

Sébastien Rouland elicited some terrific playing from the Staatsorchester Stuttgart. They played with minimal vibrato but with the amplitude of a modern instrument orchestra. The playing was spot on and the pacing excellent. I would have preferred a slightly swifter tempo for ‘voglio tempo’ but otherwise it was superb. I read someplace, and sadly don’t remember where, that this production was due to be filmed for DVD. I very much hope so but I would recommend to anyone who has the opportunity to see it live, it is a superb piece of work.

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