Music and Vision homepage


CD Spotlight

Beauty and Pleasure, Time and Disillusion


WILFRID MELLERS examines Handel's oratorio
'Il Trionfo del Tempo e della Verità'

<< Continued from page 1


The opposing sides in this duologue are represented by two female soprano voices portraying Beauty and Pleasure, and by two male altos, probably super- rather than sub-human castrati, who signify Time and Disillusion. The exceptional quality of the young Handel's genius is evident in the fact that the women's narcissism, even at its most fatuous, inspires respect for its bravery: while the relative sobriety of the male or quasi-male voices convinces us that, but for the 18th century mean they advocate, we'd be doomed to self-destruction. We aren't surprised that Handel employs, for this grand theme, all the resources of classical Heroic Opera, involving recitative, arioso, aria, chorus, and ceremonial dance. In addition, he calls on the purely instrumental elements of his time's social musics: solo instruments, from virtuosic violins exploited for the bravura display they (and we) are capable of, to an insidiously tintinnabulating clarion indicative of Illusion; communal media like the concerted concerto grosso; and especially the organ concerto in which Handel himself presided as soloist. The work epitomizes a world's and an age's much-vaunted, well-accredited code of values.

The piece could be performed wherever two or three, or two or three hundred, are 'gathered together'; and it could, but need not, be enacted in some masque-like visual form, in theatre, civic hall, or church. The essence of the work, initiating Handel's Brilliant Career, is that it is at once particular and general.

The two women soloists, Beauty and Pleasure, have the trickiest assignments: for Beauty's mirror-aria, as she gloats over her own image, has to inspire admiration (involving both delight and wonder), whilst admitting to her idiocy; complementarily, Pleasure's wilful emptyheadedness must also persuade us that it's only common sense - a revered 18th century virtue - to make the most of the moment as or before it flies. Claron McFadden and Elisabeth Scholl have the vocal agility and at least a measure of the fantastic volatility needed to cope with the crazy coloratura: which sounds the more outlandish in dialogue with the relative austerity of Time and Disillusion, sung by Nicholas Hariades and Peer Abilgaard with purity of line and eveness of tone. It's the 'reality' of Time that prompts the first sublime moment: in the aria Urne voi, evoking the nothingness that must remorsely efface both Beauty and Pleasure: leading into a magnificent chromatic chorus (Son larve di dolore) in which the recognition of 'reality' becomes itself a positive virtue. So Part 1 ends with an Admission of man's self-destructiveness, while also suggesting that reaffirmations of our however futile dreams are not merely manifestations of our frailty, but also tributes to our resilience. [Listen, CD 1, track 20, 00:32 - 01:30.]

Continue >>


Copyright © 18 May 2000 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK







 << Music & Vision home              Love's Lore >> 

Download realplayer G2 

To listen to the aural illustrations in this review,
you may need to download RealNetworks' realplayer G2.