The Triumph of Time and Truth, Oratorio by G. F. Handel
The Triumph of Time and Truth is a special composition in the catalogue of the great Baroque composer George Frideric Handel. He created this oratorio’s very first incarnation in 1707 and continued revisiting the work throughout the next half-century until the ultimate version would appear in 1757. As such, it is both his first and his last work in this genre. What remained constant throughout these revisions was the plot: An epic clash between the characters of Beauty, Pleasure, Deceit, Time, and Truth (also referred to as ‘Counsel’). Handel constructed The Triumph of Time and Truth as a quasi-religious treatise on hedonism and excess, based on a libretto by Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili. The keen listener will discern a markedly sensuous undercurrent that makes each performance a special experience. Teatro Malibran in Venice pulls a Handel classic out of the vaults.
To convey the different sides of the moral debate, Handel assigned the soloists’ voices to the different concepts strategically. Beauty is a delicate, elegantly phrased soprano; Deceit operates in the same register, with decidedly more sensual and flirtatious intonations. Pleasure is a boisterous and loud tenor. Time is a booming, unrelenting basso, and Truth is a warm, stoic alto. These choices reveal Handel’s intended message. The fickle, fleeting concepts are all placed in the high register; they grab the attention and compete with one another, their tonal ranges overlapping. Conversely, the good and perennial values of Time and Truth, which also emerge triumphant at the end of the story, are in the lower vocal registers. This creative decision lends them gravitas, power, and fortitude that drive the work’s message home musically as well as lyrically.
The moral conflict at the heart of the oratorio focuses on Beauty and whether it should follow the easy road of Pleasure and Deceit or the elevated path of Time and Truth. Through thundering choruses and outstanding solo numbers, Handel gives the only acceptable answer, in his and in our time. Teatro Malibran stages an epic battle for the soul of humanity this season.