Handel was a 22-year-old wunderkind sojourning in Rome when he wrote Trionfo in 1707. It was a work he was to revisit at several stages in his career. The final version, revised 50 years later, was translated to English under the title The Triumph of Time and Truth. In this secular allegory, Beauty (Bellezza) is steered clear of a life of hedonistic Pleasure (Piacere) by the twin consciences of Time (Tempo) and Disillusion (Disinganno).
Jürgen Flimm’s staging, which was first seen in Zürich in 2003, is possibly unfocused and impenetrable, but its cool elegance serves the dramatic qualities of both music and libretto. His aesthetic of saturated colors and opulent costumes gives this production a certain resemblance to European art film from the 1980s, an era of cinema whose baroque sensibility harmonize with the ornamental sophistication of Handel’s score. The single set of this production, the bar room of an upscale restaurant, adds to this impression by evoking the sumptuousness of Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover. If things don’t exactly add up here – who are the various sailors, bums, peddlers and junkies who keep entering and exiting the restaurant and why does that lone barfly spontaneously combust at the very end? – it doesn’t seem to really matter, given the visual and melodic lavishness.