Telemann’s Geduldene Sokrates in Halle
I confess that I have become fond of Halle. It is a town with a distinguished cultural and intellectual history and possesses a dignity which one does not always associate with cities of the former DDR. For lovers of Handel it is, of course, a must with its annual festival devoted to the works of its most famous musical son. But during my visit last week, the opera company revealed an aptitude for another baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann. His operas are rarely performed and yet Der Geduldene Sokrates proved to be a real discovery. What happens when an Athenian law requires men to take two wives to increase the birth-rate has predictable comic consequences and, if truth be told, the libretto is both simple and cliché-ridden. Nevertheless, with delightful melodies, and imaginative harmonies and orchestral colours, Telemann overcame its limitations and the result was an engaging comedy.
Much of the success was due to the authentic playing of the score by the Handel Festival Orchestra, under the direction of Wolfgang Katschner. Incidentally, the date and manufacturer of each instrument was given in the programme –the first time that I can recall this happening in an opera house. All the singers gave alert and spirited performances, but I would single out the youngest of them, Julia Böhme. In one of the smaller roles, she impressed with her assured stage presence and agile vocal line.
Given the nature of the piece, with its symmetric action and its often mock seriousness, I would have preferred a more stylised production, and less slapstick. But that was a minor blemish in what was a an entertaining and musically satisfying evening.