That proved especially easy in Gilbert Blin's production. From the start of its first hour to the final notes of its fourth, all the familiar Blin touches--the charmingly detailed painted scenery, with its side curtains and perspective backdrops; the choreographed "period" movement; the unfailing impulse to entertain, to keep the show buoyantly aloft even when the comedy is low--were here in complicit profusion. Anna Watkins's costumes were gorgeously eyecatching, and Caroline Copeland and Carlos Fittante's Act III "Combat of the Continents" ballet (Europe wins) was a treat worth waiting for. As always, Paul O'Dette and Stephen Stubbs, on theorbo and baroque guitar, led their banquet table of world-class period instrumentalists in some supple, spry and altogether splendid music making.
The singers, too, were a world-class lot. Festival debutante Ulrike Hofbauer made a strong impression in the ride role with her period-pure, tightly controlled soprano, while festival favorite Amanda Forsythe, warmer of voice and temperament, pleased even more as Edilia. The two leading tenors, Zachary Wilder and Canada's Colin Balzer (a longtime festival favorite), as class-divided rival suitors who, in what's like a happily ended Trovatore, turn out to be brothers, were well contrasted but both first-rate, as was baritone Christian Immler as their pleased papa. Of the two other starcross'd lovers, soprano Valerie Vinzant did nicely, but baritone Tyler Duncan, while looking imposingly at home in his Mauritanian royal robes, seemed less than fully comfortable vocally. In his comic role, tenor Jason McStoots managed to be genuinely funny and never tiresome. But then, there was nothing at all tiresome about this rousing resurrection of Handel's 309-year-old operatic debut.