~ HWV 9 ~

Arthaus Musik
100 708 (PAL) / 100 709 (NTSC)
1 DVD-video
full price
Recorded in 2004.
Released in 2005.

Egeo: Johnny Maldonado, countertenor
Medea: Maria Riccarda Wesseling, mezzo-soprano
Teseo: Jacek Laszczkowski, soprano
Agilea: Sharon Rostorf-Zamir, soprano
Arcane: Thomas Diestler, countertenor
Clizia: Miriam Meyer, soprano

Vocalists from the Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Department of Musical Education
Lautten Compagney Berlin  (on period instruments)
Music Director: Wolfgang Katschner
Stage Director: Axel Köhler
Ute Feudel (TV director)

Filmed at the Schlosstheater Neues Palais at Potsdam.



This pre-Royal Academy of Music opera is based on a libretto written by Philippe Quinault for Jean-Baptiste Lully in 1675. Handel’s version, adapted by Haym, is far too rarely heard or seen. Unlike its close contemporary Amadigi, the five-act structure of the French libretto is kept, thus the dramatic structure is much different than in the London operas based on Italian librettos. It is quite frequent to have the same character singing two consecutive arias in the same scene and the exposition is not managed in the first act. For example, Medea is not even present in the first act: she arrives at the beginning of Act II and is presented as a lover in a beautiful scene consisting of an arioso with oboe, a recitative and an aria. The presence of oboe in many numbers is another particular characteristic of this opera and gives it colours which perfectly fit the magical context.

This show was a multiple co-production, performed in several places and filmed at Potsdam in 2004. It was most notably performed at Bad Lauchstädt during the 2003 Halle Händel Festspiele with a slightly different cast (Jorg Waschinski was Teseo, Johnny Maldonado was Egeo and Artur Stefanowicz was Arcane). In Halle the overall impression of the production was mixed although it featured good scenery using sliding panels with metallic reflections, nice costumes and some good ideas: Medea’s dress was made of her hair; some characters were shown like puppets whose bodies are controlled by the sorceress, although she cannot control their feelings (that is the fundamental point regarding the limit of her power). At one point Teseo is replaced by a wooden puppet dismantled by furies. The feeling of disappointment finally predominated owing to weak points in the cast and, once more, too many weak gags prevented a full portrayal of the emotional aspects of Handel’s drama.

To see this production on DVD offers a different insight from the 2003 Halle performances, but the result is still mixed. The way it is filmed is quite frustrating because it could have brought much more to the production, but the TV director seems to lack imagination or dramatic sense: too often we just get close-up shots of the singers’ mouths. Nevertheless, the main improvement is that emotion is definitely present here, notably in the portrayal of Medea and in the lovers Teseo and Agilea, although they are still limited by Axel Köhler’s ‘comic’ approach to some scenes and characters. The cast offers a good company performance, with some weaknesses but almost nothing exceptional. As in Bad Lauchstädt, the weakest singers are the countertenors who sing Egeo and Arcane. Martin Wölfel sings with no charm, little stage presence and some vocal approximations. Although correct in recitatives, Thomas Diestler forcefully swells up his voice in arias, which results in some high notes being quite difficult to listen too. Miriam Meyer and Maria Riccarda Wesseling offer good performances though the second sings with some tension and her vocalità is probably not ideal for this role. The best performances are by Sharon Rostorf-Zamir and Jacek Laszczkowski. The performances of the Polish sopranist are always a strange experience: as with many sopranists, his singing seems to be based on very personal technical ‘solutions’ which enable him to sing such high parts. In his case the whole mechanism works, with some fine singing and expression occasionally mixed with tension. He is definitely able to produce an interesting and moving performance. All the singers benefit from the efficient accompaniment of the Lautten Compagney.

A new Teseo is definitely welcome, but this one is too erratic to be really satisfying. Note that in addition to having the usual choice of subtitles you can have Chrysander’s edition of the score superimposed on to the picture.

© Philippe Gelinaud - September 2005

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