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Nine German Arias
03 Apr 2006

Nine German Arias—An Urban Baroque Film

It’s always interesting when one’s own opinion about a work varies violently from others’ views, even if they are to date minimal in number. In this case, it is not the music per se that is under discussion but the way it is represented, or in my opinion, mis-represented by this film.

Nine German Arias

Cara McHardy, Rona Israel and Saffron Van Zwanenberg, sopranos; Rodolfo Richter, Graham O'Sullivan, Zilla Gillman and Alison McGillivray, instrumentalists, Robert Howarth (harpsichord and musical director); Peter Shayne and Sophia Panayiotopoulos, producers; Peter Shayne, director.

Antahkarana DVD

£20  Click to buy

It is introduced with the words: “Filmed entirely in London in the year 2000, on video, and premiered at the 22nd Moscow International Film Festival, this award winning and groundbreaking first feature by opera director Peter Shayne is a conceptual dramatisation of Handel’s Nine Arias, composed in London c1725.

So far so good. Handel and the poet Barthold Brockes were students at the same time in Halle, and it's often assumed that they knew each other and were perhaps even friends. Brockes wrote a nine-volume anthology, from the first volume of which Handel set his Nine German Arias around 1725. In translation, the Brockes work is titled "Earthly Delight in God, Consisting of Physical and Moral Poems," the texts reflecting pleasure in the glory of God's natural creation. If one needs reassurance as to the quality of these works, then there are several excellent audio versions available - with Dorothea Roschmann’s on Harmonia Mundi an excellent example.

Reading the advertising for Peter Shayne’s work, made in 2000 but only just released on DVD last December, it sounds an interesting enough visual accompaniment to these last works the master wrote in the German language: “Three haunting apparition-like female figures wander the city singing three arias each. They extol the glories of nature and the divine, transporting us to a world of baroque ideals.”

Unfortunately, the realisation comes woefully short of the aspiration in a mass of crass and insensitive visuals that are obviously desperately trying to do something novel and challenging, yet end up just causing this reviewer to seriously consider throwing the DVD box at the screen. There are a few good ideas - but then they are endlessly repeated, ad nauseum. The film itself as a whole - tricksy “arty” shots included - reminded me of something a third-year Film Making student might produce - on a bad day. If the incessantly repeated shots were meant to be an ironic comment on the baroque aria form, then I can only say that Mr. Handel is poorly served by someone who doesn’t seem to have any real affection for, or understanding of, his music. The musicians (some first rate ones are listed) do their best and my heart goes out to the three sopranos who must be wondering now why they ever agreed to take part in this caricature.

S.C. Loder © 2006

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