Third Coast Baroque, (TCB) chamber orchestra and vocal ensemble, known as “Chicago’s most accomplished period instrumentalists and singers”, presented the Chicago premiere of Handel’s first oratorio, crafted in Italian, The Triumph of Time and Disenchantment, on April 12, 2019 at First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St., Chicago in a program to be repeated in its Evanston premiere on April 13, at Galvin Recital Hall, Northwestern University, 70 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston.
The productions featured Artistic Director and conductor Rubén Dubrovsky leading TCB artists Nathalie Colas, soprano, as Beauty (Bellezza); and Angela Young Smucker, mezzo-soprano, as Pleasure (Piacere). These high-caliber vocalists/TCB members were joined by guest artists Clifton Massey, countertenor, as Disenchantment (Disinganno) and Owen McIntosh, tenor, as Time (Tempo); both singers were making their TCB debuts, both had lustrous, captivating voices.
The program was enhanced with simply styled original projection designs by Chicago artist David Lee Csisko in an effort to re-create some of the aspects of the original Roman premiere for modern audiences, as well as furnished with English language translations of the Italian libretto as supertitles.
“Musically thrilling and psychologically captivating” is how Dubrovsky described Handel’s Triumph in advance of the performances, and the presentation lived up to his prediction. Smucker’s voice was lustrous, her manner deliciously saucy and arch; Colas’ sweet manner and silky soprano embellished every line she sang, and the period instruments sounded fresh and exciting.
George Frideric Handel composed Triumph at age 22 in Rome; the work premiered in 1707. This is a piece that appears explicitly to deal with the idea of time; the plot surrounds the conflict between earthly pleasures and divine grace. Bellezza (Beauty) knows that one day her beauty will fade, but Piacere (Pleasure) tries to convince her that this is not the case, and in doing so, promises her eternal beauty. Tempo (Time) and Disinganno (Disenchantment) do their best to warn Belleza that like a flower, beauty and its charms will not last. Bellezza eventually discovers the truth, frees herself from vanity, and in doing so, turns her heart to God. In essence, although Beauty is tempted by Pleasure, though Time and Disenchantment win out in the end. In fact, the repetitively sung theme is relentlessly fixated on the inevitable loss of earthly beauty.
Triumph is the only major work from his Italian period that Handel revived later- with changes- for London. He initially expanded the original Italian work into a new version renamed The Triumph of Time and Truthin 1737, and then created a further expanded, English version with that title in 1757. Because of the many versions of “Triumph”, it is considered both Handel’s first and last oratorio.
We are grateful to Third Coast Baroque for bringing this rare performance to fruition; the combination of deft conductor; virtuoso playing on authentic, antique instruments and superb voices gave the audience a rare treat and a look- and listen- back at an early effort of the great Handel.