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Description du produit
Georg Friedrich Haendel
Händel compose Admeto per la Royal Academy, infatti appartiene al gruppo delle cosiddette opere londinesi. Una rappresentazione in età moderna" per il festival handeliano di Halle.
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Act I of the opera opens with King Admeto on his sickbed, at the verge of death, in the throes of fevered nightmares. At the beginning of Act II, Hercules rescues Alceste from the tormenting furies of hell. When you think about it, why shouldn't these scenes take place in a hospital? The staging does have some oddities, such as Meraspe's PT Cruiser and a fountain that shoots up now and again for no apparent reason, but at least Trasimede doesn't quite take off his pants (as Nero does in the Virginia Opera's recent performance of "Agrippina"). Eventually director Axel Kohler calms down, and most of Act III is set in a stylized, columned palace.
The singers, instrumentalists, and sound quality are excellent--even better than in Alan Curtis's classic 1977 account (available on three Virgin CDs). The voices, including two male altos, all correspond to those in Handel's original performances. As a bonus, this set includes two CDs of audio excerpts, containing about half of the arias and none of the secco recitatives.
I would still prefer a somewhat more traditional performance, and I'm not sure how well this one will wear with repeated viewings, but it's an enjoyable addition to the growing list of Handel operas on DVD.
Addendum (September 26, 2010): How well does this performance wear? Not very well. There are a lot of other Handel videos to which I return frequently: Christie's Giulio Cesare, Hercules, and Semele, Curtis's Ariodante, and Rousset's Serse, among others. But this isn't one of them. The new Admeto conducted by McGegan Admeto is excellent, and much to be preferred. If I were reviewing this DVD today, I would give it only 3 stars.
Although it quite stayed this way in this performance, it got an innovative twist in absurdity - my mood got a boost from the incredible Cerberus who was not a traditional dog, but rather a triple-faced Janus, who was also a cannibal, picking in poor Alceste abdomen and eating her intestines. It was outrageously funny, and Hercules putting all the bowels back into the place was hilarious. Since that scene, the incredible crudity was quite entertaining.
Next I would observe that no modern German production goes without a gun, and the scene of Antigone's abduction had properly showed us the weapon. Alcina on DVD is another splendid example of using a gun, and I saw it live in Munich in 2007, in Alcina as well, with the good old gun well-employed. A gun must be German fascination and fetish, although I am not sure Handel shared it at all.
Handel would probably disapproved of the interferences with the foreign sounds, such as the car's engine sound, excessive screaming, etc - I imagine he could condone a production with the wildest imagination, as long as his music is un-assaulted and stays pure as he had written it.
His genius is as always amazing; it is interesting to compare this opera with Gluck's Alceste, which is written about 40 years later, and is so inferior; but again, who can compare with the Maestro di Halle. Maybe Monteverdi - and the duet of Antigone and Admeto is so reminiscent of "Pur ti miro" from "Il Coronazione di Poppea"; I always thought it could have been Handel who wrote that duet, since it is almost certain that it was not by Monteverdi... But this is another story.
The love triangle in Admeto is also calling to similar ones in Alcina - Alcina-Ruggiero-Bradamante and in Hercules - Hercules-Dejanira-Iole.
Vocally this production is superb; it is a pleasure to listen to CDs as well. It is noteworthy to remember that this opera was not as much about the male role, but rather about the tow prime donne of the day - the premier cast included Faustina Bordoni as Alcestis and Francesca Cuzzoni as Antigona.
Yet even if it was a funny production, it was somewhat childish, and I wish to see a more thoughtful work that does not necessarily makes a vaudeville of Handel. Considering his time, the common-folks opera was making great debut, as with John Gay's The Beggar's Opera that made a whooping success, and Handel had ample opportunity to switch his style and go popular. However he stayed faithful to myths, ancient gods, heroic kings and queens, nymphs and such. Bringing his poetry down to earth does not go too well with the grandeur and sublime of his music, and although experimenting is interesting, I personally find traditional productions more aesthetically rewarding with this composer. I think he had enough talent to create in Verismo, if he wanted, but he preferred Olympic heights, and why not to respect his obvious artistic wish? He had never been a circus director, and lavish productions do him more justice and let appreciate the perfection of his music more.
We must begin by realizing that the foundation of opera is the composer being the interpreter of the work and not the librettist, actors, directors and even conductors. The performers and director are supposed to bring out to the best of their ability the composer’s interpretation of the libretto. This interpretation is music amplifying the meaning of the words and story in such a way as to communicate the art in a way that transcends the spoken word alone.
During the period in which Handel composed there was a constant issue concerning the actors imposing demands upon the score. These demands served to highlight the technical achievements of the singer often at the expense of the composer’s intent. Abuses led to practices that distorted the performance as to be absurd. The music, carefully composed to fully bring out the words and action, was often performed in such a way as to deface, destroy and render unintelligible the musical interpretation.
Although Handel was famous he apparently had a hard time reigning in his singers. Quality tenors and sopranos were apparently in short supply. The castrati enjoyed great popularity and even political influence. Castrated before puberty, those few who actually were successful after many years of cloistered intense training produced a unique powerful sound and achieved technical prowess that was unrivaled. Having sacrificed so much to this barbarous practice their personal power and fame was a prime motivation. This is not unlike the age of the great divas of the next century.
In our time counter-tenors have replaced the castrati and their craft has permitted revival of these wonderful operas. We do not know what the castrati sounded like nor ever heard what they were able to achieve as far as technical expertise. The counter-tenors sing in the alto range and often play principle male roles alongside sopranos, mezzo-sopranos and basses. There is no tenor role in Admeto.
The counter-tenor sound is much different in texture, fullness and other qualities than the female alto. The latter is more delicate. The castrati apparently developed tremendous lung capacity and power due to the developmental shape of the thorax as a result of the castration. The men singing alto can do so more powerfully and with a fullness that is simply foreign to our ears.
Frankly, it sounds a bit freakish and if you are listening to a CD it can get a bit confusing. It is also a bit disorienting to watch a male hero, normally a tenor, sing alto. It is just foreign to us and disorienting. It is difficult, IMO, for the counter-tenor to convey the masculine heroism of these roles. Yet these parts were often written for castrati and something about their art must have rendered authentic and effective the musical interpretation. This is a great challenge for the modern counter-tenor and the audience. I struggle with it.
The other difficulty modern audiences may find with these works in general is their style. You often have a great classical Greek story here interpreted by a musical genius. In the evolution of opera, the composers were attempting to recover the Greek ideal of music and theater they could only read about in ancient texts. The tradition was lost by the prevention of direct intergenerational transmission in the Middle Ages and the music was never written down. The artists had written descriptions of the achievements of that ancient art.
Greek plays reflected the Greek ideals and philosophy. We are used to a more direct and popular expression of emotion and action. The libretti often reflect the original Greek style of more abstract expression. This fits with the dualism of Greek culture and the balance between the material and the ideal or spiritual. Therefore the parts depicting action are words of intent and the arias or, when present, the chorus, are reflections of what is going on in a somewhat removed manner that may seem a bit cold and philosophical rather than raw emotional expression.
One can see the critical role of music in this stage of opera. The emotional and transcendental content is amplified and mostly provided by the music and not the staged action and props. The words are the stones upon which the fuller expression is formed.
At this stage of development we have a pattern of dry recitative in which the action is described and plot advanced followed by aria (or sometime a chorus) giving an interpretive reflection that may seem aloof. The challenge for the modern audience, used to fuller, continuous music theater and grand productions, is to appreciate this art for its own brilliance.
So what happens in these modern productions? There is evidently some attempt to bring forward the production in time to the effect of making the staging, dress and action more familiar. I ask an important question. Is the chief motivation behind these productions the inability of the audience to appreciate and give due attention to the opera in its original form or is it due to an inability or unwillingness of the artists to recreate that form in its fullness? Perhaps it is both.
What we often have, as in this case, is a modern revival of the issue that plagued these composers in their lifetimes – performers taking over and distorting the work of a genius. The abuses of some of the castrati are not the abuses of the directors. They are taking liberties that go far beyond trying to bring the opera into a more familiar form. They are doing many things that essentially change the entire work of art into something it is not.
I will say that this production is not as grotesque as many I have seen. Other productions have resorted to nudity, sexually explicit vulgar acts and grotesque provocative props. While this production does have some element of these tasteless forms they are mainly relegated to the scenes in Hades (a modern morgue) where Hermes is a cannibal feasting at an autopsy.
The modern staging here is that of a hospital with an operating room and medical props. A brain MRI of the sick Admeto is projected on the backdrop (normal as best as I can tell). The costumes are tacky, plastic looking and rob the characters of dignity. There is also a large amount of miscellaneous action by “extras” busying themselves with tasks irrelevant to the opera itself. This creates two problems: 1) it is a major distraction for the audience who should be paying attention to the acting of the one singing (indeed, the camera is often not on the singer but on these other actors) and 2) it creates a parallel story line in pantomime that is irrelevant to what is supposed to be happening.
One can see the problem. In addition to having three major elements of this operatic form that are foreign to modern audiences (the Greek classical style, the musical style of dry recitative/aria) and the sound of the counter-tenors, the audience is distracted by the visual goings on.
Further, despite what one may think of the staging and direction as far as taste, the focus leans heavily toward the material and away from the ideal. This creates an imbalance in the dualism mentioned above. The ideal is the “higher” expression in this art form and so much material expression undercuts it. Thus, despite one’s individual taste and mores, a strong argument can be made for interpretive failure on this basis IMO.
The challenge for the main singers is to bring out in expressive musical form that which Handel intends plus convey in acting through subtle actions and facial expressions what they are singing. An audience cannot pay attention to both the main singers and the other action. In this operatic form, it is the former that is most important and is the arbiter of how successful the performance is.
To that end I found, with exceptions, the singing and acting flat and short. The best performance was by Romelia Lictenstein (Alceste) who put forth true effort and emotion into her performance. Mechthild Bach was also good at times but she failed to fully develop the transformation from princess to veiled humble servant and then noble princess again. She was unconvincing and part of this, IMO, lay in the costumes and staging which served to obscure this task.
The counter-tenors had quite a task and it is difficult to be hard on them because they are trying to reproduce something that is long lost and having to overcome an audience alienated from the operatic form in time and culture. I noticed they wore mikes indicating a lack of force in their singing but this is not a failing alone given the circumstances. I think they were undermined by the director and seemed lost as did the bass that played Hercules.
In addition, I found Howard Arman’s conducting and tempo a bit flat. The music is busy and brilliant and more expressive than delivered here. Perhaps that is personal taste.
I must admit that I have little against which to judge this performance. I have not seen nor know of a performance produced faithful to what Handel intended.
Handel was a musical giant. The stories upon which these operas are based have survived millennia and are timeless. If Handel was not able to fully free himself of the castrati can we not do him honor by freeing him thus? I believe this is a worse dishonor than Handel may have experienced in his lifetime and we owe it to him, and to opera, to attempt to reproduce Handel’s work and not distort it into something post-modern of our own.
Finally, guns appear in this opera. I have seen too many productions with automatic weapons and other explosive devices and firearms that were not even dreamed about in the composer’s worst nightmare. With due respect to the NRA, I favor a complete ban of automatic weapons in the traditional opera house '.
In addition - this particular packaging is a bit tricky. The discs are very secure but in a holder that is not like the ones you may be used to. The second disc is held in place by a clip and if you try to remove it the usual way you may force and break it. Take your forefinger alone, place it in the center hole pull upwards rather than trying to loosen it from the edge. You will see what I mean upon examination.