Handel Festival, Göttingen, Germany

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Göttingen's annual Handel Festival, 85 years old, is by some margin the most prestigious celebration of his music. The British conductor Nicholas McGegan, its artistic director since 1991, re-established the policy of staging an opera each year. He's scored some triumphs, butthis year's Atalanta isn't really one of them.

Göttingen's annual Handel Festival, 85 years old, is by some margin the most prestigious celebration of his music. The British conductor Nicholas McGegan, its artistic director since 1991, re-established the policy of staging an opera each year. He's scored some triumphs, butthis year's Atalanta isn't really one of them.

Written in 1736 to mark the marriage of Friedrich Ludwig, Prince of Wales and Princess Augusta of Saxony-Gotha, the opera slots neatly into this year's theme of Handel and the House of Hanover. It's had little exposure, though McGegan recorded it in 1984.

Choreographer Catherine Turocy's production at the lovely Deutsches Theater seemed determined to show why. Her goal seems to be the purest period authenticity: flamboyant costumes, pastoral-style painted flats and strictly defined movements. Handel's stage music surely demands a more creative, less academic approach now.

And Atalanta needs all the help it can get. Its plot is slight, its characters shallow, as required when one's mission is to flatter royalty. Atalanta, princess of Arcadia, and Meleagro, king of Aetolia, are disguised as a shepherdess and a shepherd, so can't reveal their mutual amorous passions. A real shepherdess and shepherd, Irene and Aminta, also have communication issues. After convoluted machinations, all turns out well. End of story. Much of the music represents Handel in lighter vein.

McGegan's conducting was nevertheless charged with a brisk energy, and his own, San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra played with airy, alert precision. The always charismatic Dominique Labelle (Atalanta) was both commanding and witty, her lovely voice in fine shape, while Susanne Ryden (Meleagro) showed the darker shades required of a soprano in a male role. Emma Curtis (Irene) combined a rich contralto with a winning loftiness, the perfect partner to tenor Michael Slattery's boyish Aminta.

The best of the concerts was also by McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, with the accomplished Winchester Cathedral Choir, who sang two Coronation Anthems with thrilling musicianship.

Comments