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Handel: Deidamia

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Actors: Matthews, Cangemi, Pasichnyk, Santafe, Foster-Williams
  • Directors: Bolton, Alden
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Classical, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0), Italian (DTS 5.1 Surround)
  • Subtitles: English, French, German
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Opus Arte
  • DVD Release Date: January 29, 2013
  • Run Time: 208 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0096KHX1E
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #152,239 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

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There has been some terrific work done in recent years in terms of critical editions, in the development and playing of period instruments and through inventive stage productions, all of which have gone some way to revive even the most obscure of Handel's operas and help restore the composer's reputation to the place it deserves. There was however a reason why Baroque opera seria went out of fashion, consigning all but a few of Handel's operas to obscurity for several hundred years. They can be frightfully dull. Even Handel, towards the end of career, moved away from the overly restrictive conventions of the form in preference for the oratorio, but even his late operas show a diminishing of interest and invention. Written in 1741, Handel's last opera, Deidamia only ran for three performances and it is not the most involving work by the composer in its subject or treatment. On the other hand, it's still Handel, and with a little involvement and invention, even the driest of Handel's opera serias can be enhanced with a strong and sympathetic production.

There's a tendency to take Handel very seriously indeed, but his works are littered with comic references, the composer recognising long before Mozart that there's lots of humour to be derived from hidden identities and cross-dressing in opera plots. That's evident immediately from the moment that Deidamia, on the island of Scyros, expresses her frustration that her lover - the great hero Achilles - is unable to keep in character in his female disguise. Having been sent there by his father to hide - an oracle having warned him of Achilles fate should he join the war with Troy - Achilles is disguised as a young girl, Pyrrha.
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This is a very nontraditional production set in a world of modern costumes including some remainiscent of WWII. Odd sets too. But everything works. This is a lot of fun and the singing/acting is excellent. This is definitely NOT Eurotrash. Oh! That other "updated" operatic productions were done this well.
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Here is a rare and exceptional example in which the director and costume designer amuse themselves with `silly' costumes, but it actually works. I usually loath the stupid concept of 'clever' producers' of dressing opera singers in an motley set of `modern' and bizarre costumes (mostly tasteless) to help the `stupid' spectators to understand the universality of the opera across time and place. However, in this particular production I enjoyed every moment of it. All my reservations withstanding, I found that the costumes have actually helped highlight the `buffa' aspects of this supposedly `siria' opera. This work may not be among Handel's greatest masterpieces, but the way it is presented and sung here makes it a thorough pleasure for the senses. Sally Mathews' performance is outstanding: both singing and acting are superb. Qudos also goes to Olga Pasichnyk and Silvia Tro Santafe. Ivor Bolton also did a fine job in introducing this forgotten opera to the the modern audience.
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Five minutes after curtain-up I found myself laughing out loud and this was but a prelude to the inexhaustible comic touches throughout the production. A submarine periscope moving across the stage signals we're in for loads of the unexpected. This is not wanton goofing around. The submarine is a frightening presence when it surfaces and it symbolizes the might of Greece. "Your reply is an offense to Greece. You are protecting the Trojans" threatens Ulysses from the conning tower. From curtain-up to finale, all the igenious stage effects are 100% true to their mission of making Handel a success and they achieve this with marvelous flair and enthusiasm.

The presentation of Achilles is a gift from heaven. Olga Pasichnyk conveys male adolescent hormones itching for challenges and impatient for the dominos of restraint to be scattered all over the place. Her trampings, her gait, her overall impetuousness are entirely convincing --- this is a volcanic warrior held on a very tenuous leash who is galled by the comical female wardrobe and increasingly insupportable pretenses.

The cast is superb, except for Andrew Foster-Williams as Fenice who can't match the fast company that surrounds him.
The prior two reviewers comment on the vocals with such discernment, my comments would be redundant. We are all enthusiastic.

There are stretches where the opera itself needs help beyond capable singing and the bold staging & high jinx give it the propulsion it needs to be a winner. Everything is in the service of Handel and there's no self-indulgence or sensation-seeking for the wrong reasons. It's a bouyant production bursting with vitality and the electric charge that makes us sit up and take constant notice. And it's constantly loyal to Handel.
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Or the separate but related question: SHOULD Opera Seria be done seriously? It's a serious question. What's at stake is whether the Music is sufficient in itself, or whether three hours of Opera Seria must inevitably be, as Keris Nine declares, boring. Unless, that is, the listening mind is cleverly distracted from the music by zany stage business. The impresarios and stage directors of Deidamia at the Nederlandse Opera had no qualms about combining zaniness with "historically informed" musicianship. The zaniness isn't quite as convincing, for me at least, as the music. It's not clowning at the level of Cirque du Soleil; in fact it's rather corny stuff that draws chuckles mostly from its incongruity. The singing, on the other hand, is superb (with one slight exception) and the orchestra impeccable, causing me to wonder whether I wouldn't be just as happy with a concert performance or a set of CDs.

A lot of wit went into this staging. Ulysses arrives on the island of Scyros in a submarine. Achilles wears old-fashioned football shoulder pads to bulk out his armor. Phoenix chuffs a cigar while he tinkers with his radio. Sally Matthews, well cast both vocally and visually as the sweet toothsome virgin Deidamia, strives valiantly to convey both passion and pathos in her arias, but the effort is futile. The campy context of the staging preludes an real emotional involvement in the music.

One might wonder, I suppose, whether the audiences of Handel's London were able to thrill to the heroism of an Achilles sung soprano by a castrato. Was their reaction also a form of cognitive dissonance? Were their sensibilities so much less sardonic and skeptical than ours? Or was baroque opera always camp?
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