Notes and Editorial Reviews
Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno
Alessandro de Marchi, cond; Roberta Invernizzi (
); Kate Aldrich (
); Martin Oro (
); Jörg Dürmüller (
); Academia Montis Regalis
HYPERION 67681 (2 CDs: 137:26
Text and Translation)
Three different producers all decided, around the same time, to turn their attention to an undeservedly neglected oratorio by Handel—his first, in fact. So we’ve gone from a complete and inexplicable dearth of recordings of
Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno
to three, within a space of less than a year. I find this very good news, though I’m sure the relevant record companies would disagree. Competing versions can lead to a broader understanding of a work thanks to a variety of interpretative perspectives.
This proved to be the case between
versions led by Emmanuelle Haïm (Virgin Classics 63428, reviewed in
31:1) and Rinaldo Alessandrini (Naïve 30440, reviewed in
31:4). I found the latter good but the former excellent, superior overall in its cast, greater range of tempos, and editorially derived artistic sensibilities. De Marchi is not so easily dismissed as Alessandrini. Like Haïm, he exploits a wide assortment of tempos to vary mood, tension, and the perceived passage of time; again like Haïm, he is responsive to the variety of dramatic situations that arise within the libretto. Where Alessandrini took Time’s first aria, “Urne voi,” at an incongruously fast clip, de Marchi and Haïm settle upon a nearly identical
to let the intense realist expand upon his message that the grave claims all.
Yet de Marchi sometimes gives the impression that he is slower than Haïm, when he isn’t. This is because he is inclined at times to ignore musical factors that compete with the underlying, steady Baroque tread. An example is Beauty’s opening aria, “Fido specchio, in te vagheggio.” Haïm points both the solo oboe’s skipping figure (repeated later by Beauty) and the melody’s answering counterstatement in the bass, giving more of a lift to the line. The effect is winsome, heightening the disconnect between the aria’s pastoral elements and the drooping arc of the minor-key theme: Beauty trying to be happy and failing miserably. None of this byplay appears in de Marchi’s reading, leaving the regular marking of measures to assert itself alone.
Though this kind of difference between the two performances isn’t common, it also isn’t an isolated instance. Pleasure’s “Fosco genio” follows the lead of its text by musically mocking despair, setting it to dance a grotesque jig filled with unresolved harmonies and chromatically twitching melody. Haïm’s sharper accents, however, outline the antics better. Similarly, Haïm, during Time’s “Folle, dunque tu solo presume,” emphasizes the downward moving triplets—so like a hand slashing off all argument—while the softer attack that de Marchi’s Academia Montis Regalis brings to the beginning of its phrases mutes this effect.
I hesitate to call this a lack of imagination. It is a more literal reading, if anything, and a deliberate, artistic choice. But to me it indicates a less vivid response to the dramatic element in
. For it is a libretto that’s bold in characterization and imagery, set to an extremely rich score. A staged version of the oratorio would not be out of hand, though I think it would best be presented on a smaller stage, to allow the facial expressions and gestures of the four philosophical combatants to register fully with the audience. Given my preferences, you can probably see why I still prefer Haïm in this regard, though de Marchi’s more muted approach may appeal to listeners who believe Haïm’s theatricality to be anachronistic. Similarly, the darker tone, bowed phrasing, and lower pitch (by a semitone, in nearly all instances—but Beauty’s “Il sperai” is actually pitched a semitone higher) of the Academia Montis Regalis may find a different audience than that for the brighter strings and occasional organ solos or accompaniment of Le Concert d’Astrée.
Among the singers, Kate Aldrich (de Marchi) is a dark mezzo whose voice I find too bland for Pleasure, and her enunciation only moderate. By way of contrast, Ann Hallenberg (Haïm) enunciates with clarity, and possesses a beautiful, well-focused tone. Roberta Invernizzi (de Marchi) makes a fine Beauty who phrases and executes turns charmingly, though she aspirates the coloratura in “Un pensiero nemico” slightly. She draws roughly even with Natalie Dessay (Haïm), in my opinion, though Invernizzi’s voice doesn’t float quite as freely.
Where both Alessandrini and Haïm give us contralto Enlightenments, de Marchi chooses to use a countertenor with an alto cast to his voice. I found Martin Oro delicate and soft, and miscast as the heroic Ormindo in Cavalli’s opera of the same name (
31:4). Here he is in his element, at least in the slower, more reflective numbers such as the sympathetic “Crede l’uom” and the gently chastising “Se la bellezza.” At slow tempos, Oro attends to niceties of phrasing with finesse; but he makes heavier weather of a moderately fast aria such as “L’uomo sempre se stesso distrugge,” where his tone strains, turns are lost, and enunciation becomes problematic. Both Mingando (Alessandrini) and Prina (Haïm) are more successful overall, the former being richer of voice, the latter more detailed. Finally, de Marchi’s Time, Jörg Dürmüller, is not nearly as vividly characterized as Pavol Breslik’s (Haïm) in “Urne voi,” nor quite as adept at handling the fast-moving coloratura of “È ben folle quell nocchier.”
The sound is excellent and well balanced, with Ruth Smith providing the best essay on the opera and its libretto. All in all, if Haïm hadn’t appeared first, I would have been more than pleased with this reading. If de Marchi comes up second best in my estimation, it remains a very good second best, and in respect to its more measured intensity may appeal to listeners who find Haïm too assertive and personalized. As ever,
de gustibus non est disputandum.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Il trionfo del Tempo e della Verità, HWV 46b by George Frideric Handel
Martin Oro (Countertenor),
Roberta Invernizzi (Soprano),
Jörg Dürmüller (Tenor),
Kate Aldrich (Mezzo Soprano)
Alessandro De Marchi
Academia Montis Regalis
Written: 1737-1739; London, England
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