Pacific MusicWorks gives a Triumphal “Il Trionfo del Tempo”
Daniels Recital Hall (the sanctuary of the old Methodist Church at 5th and Marion) is not yet a convenient or acoustically excellent concert space, but Pacific MusicWorks triumphed over an inadequate stage with an unsuitable shape for an orchestra, plus far too much carpeting throughout, to produce a superb concert version of Handel’s Il Trionfo del Tempo (The Triumph of Time) Friday night (it’s repeated just once more, tonight, March 31; tickets: $20-$40).
The other triumph is Handel’s. He composed Il Trionfo in Rome in 1707, at the age of 22. It was his first oratorio, and it contains 24 arias, two duets, and two quartets, each one more gorgeous than the last, some coruscating with florid runs and ornaments, others slower and exquisite, and running the gamut of expression. As Roger Downey put it in his excellent notes, Handel “slips in jigs, lullabies, and calls to battle, seductions, laments, glees and prayers, each with a distinctive instrumental accompaniment….”
These are what liven up the stilted libretto written by Handel’s patron, Cardinal Pamphili, essentially a discussion between Beauty, Pleasure, Truth (or Wise Counsel), and Time, on which lasts longest. Beauty is the protagonist the others seek to convince prior to Pamphili’s foregone and puritanical conclusion. In other hands it could have been dull. In Handel’s it’s a rainbow array of sparkling beauty.
Daniels is hardly the venue deserved by performers of the caliber of Pacific MusicWorks instrumentalists and singers, but it’s a pleasure to hear them in such intimate quarters.
Soprano Amanda Forsythe as Beauty, soprano/mezzo-soprano Dominique Labelle as Pleasure, and countertenor Lawrence Zazzo as Truth have all been in demand worldwide, not just for Baroque performance, while tenor Ross Hauck as Time has chosen to base his career here, but had no problem living up to the quality of the other three.
While this was a concert performance, both women embodied their characters, in appearance and demeanor. While Labelle was the mature, sophisticated, worldly woman, dressed in chic designer black flounces over pantaloons with a voluminous gold stole and hefty crystal necklace; Forsythe, vivacious, seductive, fun-loving and young, took the breath away in a simple gold-threaded black dress over one shoulder only, her dark hair caught up at the top of her head and falling in a long ringlet over the bare shoulder and held with a slim gold band. The two guys in rumpled black suits, black shirts, and no ties, couldn’t compete in looks.
In voice, however, all four were a joy to hear for their timbral qualities and technical artistry. Not only could they sing Handel’s exciting, demanding arias with dazzling aplomb and embroider the even more demanding repeats, their expressiveness embodied the words: Forsythe’s beguiling, pouting, conflicted, and finally accepting self; Labelle’s flattery and wiles, tenderness, outrage, and sense of abandonment at the end; Time’s intensity and unpalatable truths; Truth’s urgency and plain honesty, though some of these are more difficult to portray. The gentle duet between Time and Truth near the end was one of the loveliest and a highlight. Zazzo’s countertenor has a huge range, and Hauck amazed some who had no idea he had such strong low notes, almost down to baritone level
Among the Baroque musicians, violinist Tekla Cunningham, cellist Joanna Blendulf, viola da gambist Margriet Tindemans, harpist Maxine Eilander, organist Joseph Adam, and oboists Kathryn Montoya and Owen Watkins all had prominent roles, led from the harpsichord and lute by Stephen Stubbs, who is also music director of Pacific MusicWorks and the prime mover behind the effort to bring top class Baroque opera performance to Seattle. However, thanks to the awkward stage shape, the oboists at first had some difficulty being heard and being together with the soloists.
It’s worth taking notice of Pacific MusicWorks announcements and making sure to get to its performances, including those now being hosted by Cornish College of the Arts. Each time it performs, the result is something rare, in the music itself, in performers, in style.