Teseo at the Karlsruhe Handel Festival

Although we in Britain claim Handel as our own and have been responsible for many revivals of his operas in recent years, there are important Händel (as he should be called) festivals in Germany; in Halle (his birthplace, Göttingen and Karlsruhe). At the latter town, the event takes place in the not very festive month of February. The new opera production this year was Teseo, a relatively early work drawn from French sources. Yet again, Handel reveals his brilliance, particularly in the imaginative instrumental writing, excellently executed by the German Handel Soloists under conductor Michael Form.

For the Karlsruhe performance the three castrato roles of Theseus, Egeus and Arcane were taken by counter tenors. Although Valer Sabadus won most cheers for his bravura rendering of Teseo’s acrobatic arias, I preferred the warmer sound, and more convincing portrayal, of Terry Wey as Arcane. Yetzabel Arias Fernandez, with her pure soprano, offered an appealing Agilea, but Roberta Invernizzi did not seem to have sufficient power or venom for Medea. She was not aided by a silly wig, nor a costume which impeded her movements around the stage.

Visually the production was first-rate. The revolutionary designer Adolphe Appia would have been proud of Flurin Borg Madsen’s set, comprising mainly blocks and staircases, rectangles and parallelograms, but I do not think that he would have liked the video backcloth projections which, as usual, tended to distract from, rather than enhance, the mood of the piece. Teseo is rather weak dramatically and while Daniel Pfluger’s staging contained some good ideas and he strived hard, and often successfully, to engage our emotions, it did not amount to a coherent whole; rather it was evening of very good moments, which gave much pleasure.