Göttingen International Handel Festival - 2021 - Ariodante

It was brilliant to return to Göttingen for the International Handel Festival in September 2021. The festival usually takes place in May each year, but it has been displaced by the coronavirus pandemic. The last time the festival took place was in May 2019, when we performed Handel’s Saul [HWV 53] in Hannoversche Münden

Getting to the first rehearsal was challenging; the Lufthansa flight was delayed from London Heathrow, and many trains were cancelled in Germany because of an ongoing Bahnstreik (rail strike). After experiencing several delays we walked into the rehearsal in the Lokhalle just a few minutes before it was due to start. We should have arrived several hours before. Gladly, the Lokhalle is next to the railway station and we were not late for the rehearsal. 

Hearing the orchestra in the first rehearsal was fantastic; every phrase this wonderful orchestra plays, even in rehearsals, could go straight onto a CD. It was also fantastic to be reunited with so many friends and colleagues from near and far (the payoff for completing an ongoing array of PCR tests). It was great to see many friends from Germany, Italy, Holland, and elsewhere, including the USA. It was also great to go out birdwatching in the Stadtwald Göttingen and Kerstlingeröder Feld with the orchestra's two in-house ornithologists, David Staff (trumpet) and Lisa Weiss (violin). There was also an opportunity to climb the hill to the Bismarckturm on one of our mornings off.




This year would be Laurence Cummings’ final year as the musical director of the festival. We will be sad to see him go. Phoebe (principal cello) organised purchasing a 17th-century print of a scene from Göttingen to present to Laurence as a gift. I was tasked with taking a photograph of the members of the orchestra outside its spiritual home, the kitchen at the Parkhotel Ropeter. I took the photo and got it printed in town. I visited my favourite stationery shop in Göttingen and the same man who helped me create an oversized greetings card for another member of the orchestra several years ago was on hand to mount the photograph onto card, and to provide, fold and crop the card and paper. Watching his precise work was something of an education. The orchestra's in-house artist, Mauro Zavagno (bass) illustrated the inside of the card with a caricature of Laurence wearing a coronavirus face covering that simply said 'FOG'. He is a fantastic artist.

I played second trumpet in the performance on 10th September 2021, with David Staff on first trumpet. We had only two entries towards the end of the opera, one was a short fanfare-like movement and the other was one of only three choruses in the entire work. Handel’s Ariodante [HWV 33], with a libretto by Antonio Salvi, was originally performed on 8th January 1735 at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden in London. 

As Göttingen’s Stadthalle is currently closed for refurbishment the performance took place in the Lokhalle; a former railway locomotive hall in Göttingen. This enormous industrial space had been temporarily converted into a concert hall. Sound engineers used microphones to subtly amplify the orchestra and singers, and to improve the acoustic of the hall.

It was a fantastic performance, and the modest, socially-distanced audience really encouraged the performers with rapturous applause. It was a wonderful ensemble:

Emily Fons (Ariodante)
Marie Lys (Ginevra)
Clint van der Linde (Polinesso)
Rachel Redmond (Dalinda)
Jorge Navarro Colorado (Lurcanio)
Njål Sparbo (Il Re di Scozia)
Steffen Kruse (Odoardo)
NDR Vokalensemble
FestspielOrchester Göttingen
Laurence Cummings (Harpsichord and conductor)

Ariodante’s famous aria ‘Scherza, infida’ was fantastically rendered by Emily Fons, with all the necessary gravitas, and the yearning bassoon playing of Rhoda Patrick and Nathaniel Harrison.

I left Göttingen early on the morning after the concert (11th September) to join a project in Stuttgart. I watched the familiar twin spires of the Johanneskirche fade from view as the train departed and I realised the significance of the date; 20 years since 9/11.

Russell Gilmour
Russell Gilmour Blog
writing on music, photography, engraving, travel and life as a freelance professional musician.