"Teseo is a rare Handel opera and I found it quite irresistible in this production. The story follows Rinaldo format, with a heroic subject and it's a wonderfully messy mix of "Greatest Hits of Greek Tragedy" with a wacky deus ex machina ending, romantic couplings and plentiful soap opera moments. The visual side is fittingly offbeat: the stage sets are very minimal but stylishly weird, and scenery changes are done with ingenious sliding screens. The costumes are spare, with bizarre touches- splashes of colour, yellow gold armour, strange gowns. The make up is already strong in Act I and then it goes where no Handel make up has gone before, and I loved the outrageous hairdos- think Brunnen G from the Lexx TV series... The orchestra playing is great throughout and there is a very good chorus, but the spotlight is on six soloists. Their singing is uniformly good, especially in the female ranks, but two performers deserve a special mention. One is Maria Riccarda Wesseling, who plays a possessed, deranged Medea. She makes her first appearance sitting on a bed, wearing a dress made of what looks like human hair- it's her on the DVD cover, stretching out her red hand- and singing up a menacing storm. The other is Jacek Laszczkowski in the title role of Teseo. Laszczkowski bills himself as sopranist and sounds like a bona fide male soprano, with a timbre different from most countertenors- and he has killer high notes and spectacular dynamic shadings, and great presence on stage. The acting is mostly over the top; this is not a production that takes itself too seriously and aims for serious drama. There are many campy moments played for laughs, and several raunchy scenes and bed sessions, including a solo one by Medea. Although the whole opera clocks in at almost three hours, I found the whole thing very absorbing and the five acts flew by. The DVD comes with an interesting special feature: you can display the music score, which appears on the screen as transparent overlay and is neatly aligned with each scene. Though the visibility of music notes is better than this of strange font featured in the text, this is something new for opera DVDs. Other than that, there are no real extras, just the standard set of subtitles plus synopsis and detailed credits. The sound- in either PCM stereo or Dolby Digital 5.1- is excellent; the acoustics of the small but magnificent Schlosstheater Potsdam, where this performance was filmed, must have played a big role. I don't think Teseo, especially in this particular staging, would be very accessible to casual viewer who knows only old fashion versions of Traviata, La Boheme and Carmen, or, at the most, a traditional staging of Handel's Julius Cesar, but for anyone interested in Baroque operas, this is a real treat."
Mythical Subject, Human Passions
Brian J Hay | Sarnia, Ontario Canada | 08/19/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Handel's Teseo: Mythical Subject, Human Passions by Brian J. Hay
There are a few things about this release that are annoying right off the bat. But it's worth the effort to wade through them. The production is an extremely good one and the orchestral performance is great. The Lautten Compangney Berlin (whom I'd never heard of) is as good a period instrument ensemble as can be found anywhere. Their playing (under the baton of one of their founders Wolfgang Katschner) is tight but relaxed at the same time. Everything sounds effortless. And everything they do supports the singing well.
The singers (again, nobody I'd ever heard of) are all excellent. The men, all countertenors, are well suited to their roles. Martin Wölfell uses the shadings in his voice to portray the fallibility of Egeo. Thomas Diestler brings a full measure of humanity to the role of Arcanus. He also gets one of the funniest moments in the piece and he uses his voice to tremendous advantage to play it for all its worth. Jacek Laszkowski fills the role of Teseo with force and fury needed for the part and with more than enough tenderness to be believable as a saddened lover. I've never been a fan of countertenors but these three men opened my eyes. They're all great.
The three ladies are exceptional as well. Miriam Meyer has a bell like soprano voice. It's lovely and clear. Sharon Rostorf-Zamir has a gentle soprano that belies her raw power. Maria Riccarda Wesseling is a stunning mezzo-soprano. Her voice is powerful but also capable of great subtlety. She and Sharon Rostorf-Zamir are the standouts in this production. But the entire cast is very good. The music that Handel wrote for this work is extremely difficult to sing. All of the parts have a lot of coloratura passages that are as difficult as they sound. This cast pulls them off beautifully.
The staging (though a little bizarre at times is extremely) is effective. The cast is used for symbolism as well as interaction. When Medea (for instance) is shown but not singing or interacting in any way it's intended to show how her hand plays a role in what's going on. The Director, Alex Köhler, makes extensive use of devices such as but is careful to do so during the later stages when the audience should have an understanding of the piece. The work is set in ancient Greece but the costumes hearken (more or less) toward the time of the composer. It doesn't hurt the production. Medea's wardrobe is from somewhere else. More than anything else it seems intended to portray the feral aspect of her nature. It works and it works well. The animalistic side of her personality is always as close to the surface as her ruthlessness and vulnerability. That's a tribute to the abilities of Stage designer Stephan Dietrich, Maria Riccarda Wesseling and the man who put it all to music, George Frideric Handel.
The music is good, but it's not Handel's best. It was written about four or five years after Agrippina, the work thought to be his first masterpiece. His sense of melodic structure was well formed by that time but his scoring became far more fluid over the years. His sense of structure for complete works improved greatly as well. That doesn't mean this is bad--it's anything but. But be warned. It's not up to the calibre of Guilio Cesare.
All of the problems with this issue are on the technical end (which cost it one star). The sound is good but not quite what it should be. There is one aria ("Amarti si vorrei, il ciel, il ciel lo sé") that's sung to lute accompaniment only. The lute isn't prominent enough. The problem there is with the mix. The sound on the rest of the disc is good. The special features are a mixed bag. The synopsis is utter necessity. Anyone who begins watching this thing without looking at it is going be lost. No credits are shown at the beginning of the production and the librettist (Niccolo Francesco Haym) was kind enough to introduce the first two characters without using their names. "Score plus", offers the option of watching the score or the feature, not both. I can't read music but I did look to see what it was like. The overlay that shows the score is almost opaque.
The other glitches are even more annoying. This DVD jumps straight to the production. And it's counterproductive. The main menu offers an array of choices. And they aren't straightforward either. The first page lists the five languages available for subtitles. Selecting one brings up the main menu (and raises the question as to why that's not on the first page). The third menu provides the act listings while each of those leads to individual track choices. That's fine but the method for moving back isn't clear. The problem lies with the layout of the page. The listings for the main menu and resumption of the movie blend in to the scenery too easily. Their positioning is good but they don't draw the eye. To be fair, once "through it all" everything is straightforward. But first impressions do count for a lot. I prefer to set the audio and subtitles up before moving on to the production. Having to back things up and then navigate through a confounding mess the first time around was just an exercise in frustration.
These are minor complaints. This production is excellent and the singing and playing is as good as can be found. This release along with other productions I've seen (and sometimes reviewed) also suggests that the best singers and orchestras may be more active on stage than in the studio. Certainly the ensemble here is as good as almost any that show up on CD. It's food for thought. This is a "must have" for anyone who enjoys Handel's operatic work."
Handel for the 21st Century
Paul Van de Water | Virginia, USA | 01/03/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Except for Julius Caesar, Handel's operas typically involve mythology, sorcery, potions, convoluted love interests, and other elements that are difficult to carry off on today's stage. Some directors try to make the stories more accessible by using contemporary settings--but typically with mixed results. This staging of Teseo steers a middle, and generally successful, course.
This production employs a stylized classical setting but endeavors to give the characters real emotions and personalities. A key element of the strategy is assigning the major male roles to countertenors. (One was originally written for an alto.) Although the men sometimes lack vocal precision, they make the amorous interests much more believable. A bit of playful humor also adds humanity to the characters and keeps the proceedings from getting too serious without turning them into farce.
By all accounts, the central character and the star of this performance is the sorceress Medea. Maria Riccarda Wesseling sings and acts to perfection, fully conveying the regret, rage, and love that the role embodies. A suitably odd-looking band of demons gives form to Medea's emotions and effectively carries out her magical spells.
Overall, a very satisfying production. (The English subtitles, however, are poorly translated.)"
Handelian singing at its finest
Mezzo Soprano | 02/08/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The most noteworthy thing about this Teseo is the outstanding quality of the singing. There is not one weak performer here, and I would go so far as to say that you'd be hard-pressed to find better Handelian singing anywhere. From the first to the last note the period ensemble gives an energetic and sophistiacted performance. The production maintains the audience's interest with a blend of baroque acting, naturalism and symbolism. The use of countertenors for all the male roles makes the romantic relationships believable and each singer physically resembles the character they are playing. While I strongly recommend this DVD for opera enthusiasts, those new to the genre may find it heavy going."
Teseo the Weak.
Anna Shlimovich | Boston, MA United States | 05/20/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I was quite excited in anticipation of watching this performance as I have a fabulous recording of Amadigi di Gaula with two leading female singers in this Teseo - Maria Riccarda Wesseling and Sharon Rostorf-Zamir. Also, I expected that a production from Halle, performed in the marvelous Goethe-Theater in Bad Lauchstadt would be at least high-quality singing. Sadly, this performance has not lived to expectations.
The best singing was by Medea (Maria Riccarda Wesseling); he aria at the beginning of the Second Act "Dolce riposo" was probably the highlight of the whole piece. She sand well, yet even she, with Rostorf-Zamir, did not sound as impeccable as on the recording; that could be understood, of course, since a live performance is much more challenging, yet the impression was on the downside.
Concerning male roles, these countertenors could really do better; while Egeo (Martin Wolfel) was acceptable, Teseo's (Jacek Laszczkowski) sound was not too pleasing, and Arcane (Thomas Diestler) was obviously struggling with his part. Neither of these countertenors were at the level of Paul Esswood, David Daniels or Jochen Kowalski, unfortunately.
Thus audibly, this is not a very good production sound-wise. Visually, it was simply nothing of note; it was not too innovative, neither traditional, nor lavish, nor beautiful. I also found Teseo and Arcane barbaric closes and unshaven faces not connecting well to their high voices, called to express refinement and gentleness.
Adding to the general feeling of mediocrity, the music was also not the best of Il caro Sassone; it is decent, but somehow lacks brilliance that he demonstrates in many of his other opus; perhaps he made this piece due to some commission, while his heart was not in it; I'd say this opera is definitely his secondary. Of course, it still needs to be viewed by those interested in his art, for general education as least.
Overall, I was surprised of the average quality of this production in all respects; except maybe for the orchestra that was playing on period instruments. Otherwise, it is not a stunning performance; they could certainly sing better in Halle, Handel's native town."