Archives for posts with tag: Handel

There are so many issues to address when planning to present opera seria. The first of these is whether or not to cut. If you don’t cut, the performance is likely to last three hours plus however long you allow for intervals. If you don’t cut, there has to be an early evening start (no later than 7pm) or your audience will struggle to get home in areas not well served by public transport and/or those in which most local residents are tucked up in bed by 10.30pm. English Touring Opera performs on tour throughout England and has to be kind to its audience. The trouble is that if you cut so much recitative and focus instead on the “extraordinary psychological landscape” provided by the arias as James Conway chose to do, you do indeed (as he suggested) risk presenting a series of soliloquies, or a glorified song-cycle with all of the real drama knocked out of the opera.

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The ever-accumulating appropriation of soprano repertory by Joyce DiDonato continues apace. Tonight, in Handel’s 1735 Alcina, the mezzo sang neither Ruggiero – the opera’s most demanding and extensive role, written for a castrato – nor that of Bradamante – surely the opera’s most beautiful, written for a contralto – but the title role itself, which in the last decade or so I’ve heard sung on stage by Renée Fleming and Anja Harteros. Given that Alice Coote sang Ruggiero, and Christine Rice Bradamante in this performance, the provision of mezzo-soprano voices was surely excessive, and one wonders why we couldn’t have had a genuine soprano Alcina and a counter-tenor Ruggiero to re-balance the higher voiced sonorities, with only a gleaming Anna Christy’s Morgana left to fly the flag for actual sopranos among the principals.

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The Canberra Choral Society, under the overall direction of Australian countertenor Tobias Cole, has embarked on an annual series of Handel oratorio performances. Previous years have seen the relatively familiar Saul and Theodora; this year we were privileged to hear the seriously rare Alexander Balus, never before performed in Australia, and not often anywhere else. There can be no carping at a work that deserves its obscurity in this case, as the music is utterly magic and the plot no worse than many another.

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rsz_eno_xerxes_-_alice_coote_1_c_mike_hobanI began this review thinking comparisons with those who have previously sung these roles in Nicholas Hytner’s extraordinary 1985 production of Xerxes should probably be avoided, but, wouldn’t you know, my fellow critics across the broadsheets and internet have leapt into this muddy pit with gusto. I feel transported back to a typical 18th century theatre where those in the more expensive boxes of the third tier would throw pasta onto the heads of the poor souls in the “pit”, while the rival supporters of the castrati challenge each other in the streets surrounding what is now Trafalgar Square.

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