Telemann in Munich – Der Geduldige Sócrates

Telemann, Der Geduldige Sócrates: Soloists, Orchestra & Chorus of the Gärtnerplatz State Theater, Jörn Hinnerk Andresen (conductor). Gärtnerplatz  Theater. 21. 7.2011. (JMI)

Production Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz
Direction: Axel Kohler
Sets: Frank Philipp Schlössmann
Costumes: Katharina Weissenborn
Lighting: Rolf Essers


Socrates: Stefan Sevenich
Rodisette: Christina Gerstberger
Edronica: Ingra-Britt Andersson
Xantippe: Heike Susanne Daum
Amitta: Therese Wincent
Melito: Cornel Frey
Antippo: Yosemeh Adjei
Nicia: Gregor Dalal

There are not many opportunities to see a staged performance of an opera by Georg Philipp Telemann, probably the most prolific composer in the history of music. That’s a pity because this one was definitely worthwhile: its a very funny opera and has some musical moments of great beauty, although they are slightly isolated.

This opera was premiered in Hamburg in 1721 and was a great success, but then it fell into oblivion like the rest of Telemann’s operas. In recent times Der Geduldige Socrates (The Patient Socrates) has only been performed in Berlin – some four years ago in a coproduction with the Innsbruck Festival of Early Music – and in a rather surprising production at the Wolf Trap Festival in the USA.

The Patient Socrates is a true opera buffa, dealing with affairs of the heart in ancient Athens, where bigamy has become compulsory in order to ensure a constant supply of soldiers. Socrates has had two wives for some time, Xantippe and Amitta who squabble constantly compteting for Socrates’ favours. To make matters worse Socrates finds himself advising the prince Nicia about suitable marriages for his son Melitto who cannot decide between two attractive but equally argumentative ladies. There are other complications to try Socrates’ patience until Adonis returns from t6he underworld and abolishes bigamy, allowing Cupid and his darts to arrange far more satisfactory marriages all round.

This production was premiered last June and by Axel Kohler, a well-known specialist in baroque music who has had a fine career as a countertenor. His work in this opera is remarkable, sustaining audience interest at all time with a genuine humor and a great sense of fun. A revolving stage contains a large library, where Socrates teaches his pupils and manfully puts up with the squabbles between his wives. Scene changes are fast and and furious which gives the opera great energy. Stage direction is excellent and Axel Kohler draws great performances from his artists, who seem to be enjoying themselves thoroughy, which in turn is the feeling transmitted to the audience.

The best performance of the evening came from the pit, where Jörn Hinnerk Andressen, the chief conductor of the theater’s Chorus gave an excellent reading of the score. He is not yet a big name in baroque opera, but he is certainly well worth hearing in this kind of music.

The cast is quite extensive in this opera, and everyone has to sing at least one aria, which provides a total of more than 35. The singers are very well suited to the demands of the score. Socrates was Stefan Sevenich, a real institution at this theater, who is a very good actor, if not particularly suited to the Baroque style. His two wives were real fun, played by Heike Susanne Daum and Therese Wincent. Melito, the young man loved by multiple girls from the Athenian nobility , was played by tenor Cornel Frey, who sang with a great deal of musicality and expressiveness. Christina Gerstberger and Inga-Britt Andersson were the two girls in love with Melitto but between whom he cannot decide loved while they in turn are loved by Antippas who is getting nowhere fast with either of them. Countertenor Yosemeh Adjei gave a remarkable interpretation of Antippas and Gregor Dalal was a very comic Prince Nicias and also a good singer.

The theater was about 75% full and the audience gave a very warm reception to all the artists. The opera was sung in German, except for a few arias offered in Italian.

José M. Irurzun