Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno (The Triumph of Time and Disillusionment) is an oratorio by Handel which the Opernhaus in Zurich decided to stage as an opera in 2003, when La Scala’s CEO Alexander Pereira, was head of the company.
He decided to bring Jürgen Flimm’s production to Milan as part of a sort of Pereira Festival which will see several of Pereira’s ‘greatest hits’ brought in from Zurich and Salzburg (whose Festival he directed for a couple of years before taking over at La Scala).
According to the press release, in Zurich the production was ‘enthusiastically applauded’, though seeing the revival at La Scala, I can’t imagine why.
Flimm sets the ‘action’ in a space that resembles Paris’s art déco brasserie, La Coupole. Into the permanent set are introduced a variety of characters: sailors, nuns, Handel playing his organ, a bride, a 1950s after-theatre crowd, catwalk models, altar boys… you get the idea. Even though it is an eclectic mix, they are all very real, very earthly types. Yet the four singing roles are Piacere (Pleasure), Bellezza (Beauty), Tempo (Time) and Disinganno (Disillusionment), not Bob and Barbara. They are personifications of some of the most fundamental elements of life, pondered on philosophically to illustrate a simple moral, stretched out over 2½ hours as only a Baroque work can accomplish. If I were directing this piece I would think about abstract places, maybe with dei ex machina, or maybe even a futuristic setting, where the restrictions of a 1920s bar set and traditional clothing wouldn’t reduce it to a kitchen-sink drama.
Costumes range from the 18th century to a ‘50s Marilyn number to Saturday Night Fever flares and lapels. There are a couple of special effects: a snowstorm from the wings, and a mannequin in flash-paper clothing who goes up in smoke. Some idiosyncratic choreographic moves are introduced – Baroque goes disco. It’s such an irritating tic and, by now, a cliché, like line-dancing during a Mozart concertato or a hand jive during a Rossini finale, when the director seems to be saying, ‘Sorry, I didn’t know what else to do.’ Flimm obviously thought was a good way to liven the piece up a little… it didn’t.
Unfortunately, the musical side wasn’t strong enough to compensate for the paltry staging ideas. The excellent Diego Fasolis directed an orchestra formed from members of La Scala’s full-scale orchestra but Baroque in size and using period instruments. The aim is that this will become a permanent orchestra-within-an-orchestra for future period projects. They might have lacked a little of the throb and bite of a specialist group, and the vibrato-less attacks during the overture revealed some dubious intonation, but they warmed into it, and managed to fill La Scala’s large auditorium, which is maybe too large for this repertoire.
In the role of Piacere was Lucia Cirillo who is given the most famous aria of the piece, Lascia la spina, a melody that Handel recycled four years later for his opera Rinaldo where it becomes Lascia ch’io pianga. What a missed opportunity: it was ‘fine’ but nothing more.
The singers exhibited various problems including difficulty with the coloratura, volume and tessitura. If you are assembling just four singers, and the theatre that needs them is called La Scala, you would expect to find four who were perfect for their roles. Only Sara Mingardo as Disinganno was truly satisfying, though Martina Janková (Bellezza) had some good moments and acted well her transformation from Beauty to Nun. Tenor Time was Leonardo Cortellazzi.
And there I’ll stop. Sometimes, if you’ve nothing nice to say, you’re better off saying nothing…