Handel’s opera Lotario is the centrepiece of this year’s Handel Festival at Göttingen. While the story is no more convoluted than that of most Baroque operas, this one does have a few oddities of its own, and so does Carlos Wagner's production.

Sophie Rennert (Lotario) and Marie Lys (Adelaide)
© Alciro Theodoro da Silva

Lotario is the King of Germany and is aiming to take the Italian crown, currently in dispute.  The previous king has been murdered by a wicked duke (Berengario) and his evil wife (Matilde), and the latter couple, but especially her, want the king’s widow Adelaide to marry their son Idelberto. Idelberto is in love with Adelaide but despite his circumstances he is a decent chap at heart and just wants her to be happy. Five arias in, Lotario somehow penetrates the palace of the Berengario family and he and Adelaide fall in love, despite her profound grief. Eventually, of course, they get together and the Berengarios get their comeuppance but are dealt with mercifully.

The production, under the Venezuelan director, is quite complex, although the narrative per se is clear enough. Rifael Ajdarpasic's set comprises a single chamber of somewhat ambivalent aspect. Large paintings of violent scenes hang around its sides, and there is a platform structure at the back and the right side with steps, which suggests an upper gallery; a low platform which slides in and out on the left side serves as both a base for the throne and a catafalque; and various canvases propped around the floor and pots of paint suggest a studio. 

Jud Perry (Idelberto) and Sophie Rennert (Lotario)
© Alciro Theodoro da Silva

Costumes are 18th century-ish, with Berengario in a russet jacket with astrakhan lapels worn over breeches and boots. Matilde has an elaborate layered white dress with a sort of curtain structure in the front through which can be glimpsed what appear to be thigh-high boots.  Idelberto gets around in a voluminous lacy white nightie, combined with a terrible blond comb-over. Adelaide wears a black cloak initially over a black gown with a glittery bodice; when ending up as the Queen of everything, she sports another black gown which seems to be a version of Matilde’s curtain dress. Lotario, being the hero, is resplendent in shiny silver jacket. The character of Clodomiro in the original libretto was a general of Berengario’s army but in this version he is a priest in black sacerdotal attire.

Jorge Navarro-Colorado (Berengario) and Jud Perry (Idelberto)
© Alciro Theodoro da Silva

The work was performed almost complete, with the Act 1 coro “Viva, e regni fortunato” taking the chop. The more than stalwart FestspielOrchester Göttingen under Laurence Cummings performed the score with their usual style and grace. Notable in the overture were the oboes (Susanne Regel and Kristin Linde), and they contributed much throughout.

Vocal honours were easily taken by Swiss soprano Marie Lys as Adelaide, with a clear, penetrating voice and excellent technique. Her singing was an almost textbook display of Baroque vocalism, with mostly straight tone but judicious use of vibrato for colouration; pretty trills for emphasis, well articulated accurate coloratura and some lovely cadenzas. She also brought dramatic skills to bear, standing up to the nasty bullying Berengarios with furious defiance. “Scherza in mar la navicella” was a particular tour de force. Lotario was sung by Austrian mezzo soprano Sophie Rennert, and generally projected the heroic and less heroic aspects of the character. Her voice is not large, at this stage of her career anyway, but is well produced with warm even tone, and some shining high notes in “Vedrò più liete”. The duet with Adelaide was very well blended.

Todd Boyce (Clodomiro) and Ursula Hesse von den Steinen (Matilde)
© Alciro Theodoro da Silva

The role of Mathilde is an acting gift, practically demanding energetic scenery chewing; Ursula Hesse von den Steinen from Germany took the opportunity with both hands. At first her singing sounded oddly less powerful than her recitative, but improved as the evening went on. She has a dark-timbred voice with some very impressive low notes, and some burnished higher ones. Berengario  was sung by Spanish tenor Jorge Navarro-Colorado, who also sounded more robust as the opera progressed. His last aria “Vi sento” was well sung, considering he had to keep falling down and be propped up by Matilde.

American Jud Perry took the alto role of Idelberto, the most downtrodden character, but with a moral compass. For some reason he ends up cutting his hand on a sword, then in attending to it, manages to cover his white garment with blood, so ends up looking like a refugee from Lucia di Lammermoor. After a slightly wobbly start however, he produced some fine singing, particularly in the affecting “S’e delitto trar da’ lacci”. Another American singer, Todd Boyce, sang the bass role of Clodomiro, in this production as we have seen a priest, providing more or less benign guidance to the rest of the cast. His fine strong resonant voice and stately presence enhanced the production, which was very warmly received.