Handel

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Arthaus
ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Rinaldo
PERFORMER: Antonio Giovannini, Gesche Geier, Marie Friederike Schöder, Florian Götz, Yosemeh Adjei, Owen Willetts, Cornelius Uhle; Lautten Compagney Berlin/Wolfgang Katschner; dir. Eugenio Monti Colla (Ludwigsburg, 2014)
CATALOGUE NO: 102207

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This production of Handel’s first London opera, set at the time of the First Crusade, comes from the festival at Ludwigsburg, where it was performed in May 2014. It’s a most unusual show in that while the music is delivered by live singers and an orchestra, both of them placed in a pit, what we see on stage is enacted entirely by puppets. These are not small puppets of the Punch and Judy variety, however, but created on a life-size scale. It’s a co-production between the theatrical Lautten Compagney of Berlin and the Compagnia Marionettistica Carlo Colla & Figli – leading practitioners of the ancient art of puppetry.

As one of the booklet articles tells us, there is a long and distinguished history of puppet performances of opera in Italy, where close by to La Scala stands the Teatro Gerolamo, which from 1868 onwards regularly presented marionette versions of works that had triumphed at the glamorous venue next door.

Visually, there’s a lot to charm. The sets are traditional and often magical, recreating the environs of medieval Jerusalem with style and with flamboyant period (First Crusade) costumes. The movements and interactions are devised by Eugenio Monti Colla, a member of the family which has worked with marionettes for 150 years.

The puppets perform quite complex movements, though their mouths do not always move exactly in synch with the voices. A surprisingly large number of them can be fielded on stage for the more spectacular scenes.

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Musically, things are more ordinary. The cast is not special, and while the orchestra is perfectly decent, conductor Wolfgang Katschner doesn’t provide enough momentum to excite interest; in addition, neither the sound nor the picture are of top quality. A CD version of the same performance is also included. George Hall