Opera Reviews
25 February 2024
Untitled Document

Imeneo charms in the Baroque style

by Catriona Graham

Handel: Imeneo
International Handel Festival Göttingen
May 2016

Do nice things ever happen to women in operas? Take Handel’s 1740 opera Imeneo, for example. Not only has Rosmene been captured by pirates but, when the opera starts, her rescuer Imeneo claims her as his reward – with a little bit of help from the gods. Only, Rosmene is already an item with Tirinto. We just know it won’t end well …

Choreographer Sigrid  T’Hooft directs the opera for Göttingen’s International Handel Festival in the Baroque style, with dance and gesture. Not everyone likes that style but, even for those who don’t, the production is gorgeous, lit by nine hanging candelabra and more candles as footlights. It provides a soft, flickering light, with much gentler shadows.

Stephan Dietrich’s set – the opera has but the one location – is a grove by the shore, and the costumes are beautiful.  Rosmene (in soft red) and Clomiri (in a buttery gold) wear quasi-Greek tunics with deeper drapes encircling side hoops, and floral headdresses matching the corsages across their bosoms.

Tirinto, with his flowing locks and ice-blue satin, would not be out of place in a Seventies soft-rock band. The original, 1740, casting was alto castrato, and James Laing’s voice does have a more alto than countertenor sound. One can see why Rosmene would fancy him, but he is clearly more diffident than Man of Action Imeneo. William Berger is magnificent in burgundy trimmed with gold, complete with a voluminous train, with singing to match.

So we have Anna Dennis, torn between two lovers, and clearly wishing they would do the decent thing and sort it out between them, rather than force her to decide between love and duty. The poor girl even goes as far as to feign madness; not even that works. There is also a degree of petulance when her two lovers indulge in a comedic ‘I can sing higher / lower than you’ duet.  Ceres has been invoked to help her, so there is much play with golden stalks of barley. No matter what happens to her, however, Dennis sings divinely.

T’Hooft has added dances, performed by Corpo Barocco, using music from other Handel compositions.  They dance during choruses - the singers are off-stage - and they appear in Act 2 as exuberant pirates, fresh off the Jolly Roger.  One couple boasts hats with the sails and rigging of a pirate’s brig on top.

Meanwhile, Clomiri – who fancies Imeneo – is less than helpful to Rosmene, stoking the fires of Tirinto’s jealousy. Stefanie True is charming in this soubrette-ish role, and it is not clear exactly who she ends up with; she seems to be making a play for Rosmene’s father, Argenio (Matthew Brook) while consoling Tirinto.

Despite an off-night noticeable in his big Act 3 aria, Laing’s final duet with Dennis, when she has chosen Imeneo, is deeply moving and exquisitely balanced.

The FestSpielOrchester in their tenth anniversary year, play with their customary clarity, precision and verve under the direction of Laurence Cummings, and all ends well – or does it? There is just one niggle.

Just what, exactly, was Imeneo doing, dressed up in women’s clothing and going with the virgins to offer the holy sacrifice (as he tells us), in the first place?

Text © Catriona Graham
Photo © Theodoro da Silva
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