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Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno

Handel and Benedetto Pamphili

Buxton International Festival and the Early Opera Company

Buxton Opera House

July 7,11,15 and 18, 2024: 2 hrs 55 mins


Jorge Navarro Colorado as Tempo, Hilary Cronin as Piacere, Hilary Summers as Disinganno and Anna Dennis as Bellezza in Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno at Buxton International Festival. All pics: Genevieve Girling
Jorge Navarro Colorado as Tempo, Hilary Cronin as Piacere, Hilary Summers as Disinganno and Anna Dennis as Bellezza in Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno at Buxton International Festival. All pics: Genevieve Girling

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A second collaboration between Buxton International Festival and the Early Opera Company, under conductor Christian Curnyn, brings a theatrical version of Handel’s first oratorio (written in 1707) to the opera house.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno means “The Triumph of Time and Disillusion” and it’s a setting of a long Italian poem in which allegorised characters debate a theme – the other two being Beauty and Pleasure, and the theme being which experiences are truly lasting and valuable.

So far, so boring, you might think. But you have to hand it to director Jacopo Spirei (who also brought La donna del lago to the festival in 2022) for a cleverly imaginative storyline that fits the rather abstract text in a multitude of details and gives the four soloists the chance to create character as well as sing. It’s a similar technique to that used for Early Opera’s version of Acis and Galatea at this festival in 2021, and two singers from that production are back again.

It's Christmas dinner time in a British suburban family home in (I would think) the 1970s. The two young adult daughters (one is Beauty, the other Pleasure) are playing a sassy game comparing their longings for the future, but Dad and Mum (Time and Disillusion) are pretty old-fashioned and want to bring them down a peg. By the time we get to the pudding and unwrapping the presents (and there’s some impressively realistic tucking into the grub all through this) the subject is “true pleasure”.

After the interval, things take an uneasy turn. The Christmas tree has gone, but the presents are still unopened. Mum looks as if she’s hitting the bottle back in the kitchen, and Pleasure could soon go the same way. When Beauty does open her presents, they seem to symbolise her life, past, present and future: her teddy bear, her graduation costume, a wedding dress… but what will come after that?

In the one quartet number of the piece, Dad drags a coffin into the room and the chairs are arranged as for a funeral… the final resolution of Beauty’s dilemma, it seems, may lie in her own early death, with her parents left in mourning, though she does take Pleasure’s advice to “Leave the thorn, pluck the rose…” and devote her soul to goodness.

The aria in which she is thus counselled to choose the way of wisdom is none other than “Lascia la spina”, the original version of “Lascia ch’io pianga”, now known as one of Handel’s greatest hits, since he reused the tune more than once.

The piece is not for the faint-hearted: it’s the longest of the operatic offerings at this year’s festival, and you have to have a liking for the da capo type of aria, where the opening, often complete with a long, accompanying ritornello, is reprised after a variant theme. That this cast manages to find new things to do with the repeats, nearly all the time, is a tribute to their inventiveness.

Anna Dennis (who was Galatea in 2021) as Bellezza (Beauty) is rich-toned and acts the part brilliantly; Hilary Cronin, having a lot of fun as the bovver-booted, scruffy Piacere (Pleasure), is equally lovely to hear and delivers “Lascia la spina” with a seriousness that jars with Spirei’s scenario somewhat but wins you over just the same. Hilary Summers as Disinganno (Disillusion) plays the long-suffering mum (but one who’s prepared to join in a spot of post-prandial dancing) delightfully and has the outstanding lower range to deliver writing that must originally have been intended for a castrato. Jorge Navarro Colorado (another voice from the 2021 Acis and Galatea) as Tempo (Time) is equally versatile.

There’s a beautifully-detailed house interior set and some wonderful costuming by designer Anna Bonomelli, and DM Wood is again the wizard of the lighting.


More info and tickets here



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