Orlando: George Frideric Handel (1733)

Ricci: Angelica and Medoro

★★★½

(La Nuova Musica with David Bates at St John’s Smith Square, 1 February 2018)

I’ve seen a lot of very silly operas in my time, but Handel’s Orlando really does take the biscuit. Based loosely on Canto 23 of Ariosto’s Renaissance romance, Orlando Furioso, it tells the story of Charlemagne’s great paladin, who is driven mad by his unrequited love for the pulchritudinous princess Angelica. Let’s be glad that I’m not judging it solely on the libretto by Carlo Sigismondo Capece, which features paper-thin characterisation and the most egregious deus ex machina ending I’ve seen so far. I’m also judging it on Handel’s music, which includes some rather delicious arias, and on the performance of La Nuova Musica and their cast, which was extremely strong. Best of all, this concert performance featured a vivacious performance by Laurence Zazzo in the title role and a general tongue-in-cheek approach that acknowledged the silliness of the story to the full. It didn’t stop the opera from being complete nonsense, but it did make it fun to watch.

Continue reading

Mitridate Re di Ponto: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1770)

michael-spyres-as-mitridate-c2a9-roh-photo-by-bill-cooper.jpg

★★★★

(Royal Opera House, 7 July 2017)

Mitridate, king of Pontus, is missing, presumed dead. His two sons, Farnace and Sifare, have returned from the battlefield to skulk around their father’s palace and engage in the traditional pastime of operatic royalty: viz. each scheming to beat the other to the throne. Farnace, billed as the ‘evil’ son, is considering an alliance with the wicked Romans. Sifare, the ‘good’ son, is deeply in love with his father’s intended bride, the beautiful princess Aspasia. Plots are well underway when – shock horror! – it turns out that Mitridate isn’t actually dead at all, but has allowed such rumours to spread in the hope of testing his sons’ loyalty. When he returns to Pontus, the scene is set for a right royal show-down. One of Mozart’s first operas, written when he was only fourteen, this has its issues – numerous issues – as a piece of work, but it’s presented in the Royal Opera House’s classic and extravagant production, with a really splendid cast.

Continue reading

Calisto: Francesco Cavalli (1651)

Lucy Crowe

★★★★

(La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall, 28 November 2016)

Calistos are like London buses: you wait for months and then two come along at once. Mere weeks after English Touring Opera’s vivacious production, David Bates and La Nuova Musica presented their own version of Cavalli’s tale of lust, disguise and confusion. Conceived as a semi-staged performance, to make maximum use of the Wigmore’s limited space, this Calisto boasted a cast to die for and delivered some great voices; yet it didn’t eclipse ETO quite as thoroughly as I’d expected.

Continue reading

La Clemenza di Tito: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1791)

Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito (Met 2012)

★★★★

(Metropolitan Opera, New York, 2012)

Since launching the new website, I’ve been busily spring cleaning my blog and, you know what? It’s amazing what you find at the bottom of the drafts folder. As a result, there will be several extremely belated posts cropping up over the next few weeks, starting with some Mozart, in the form of La Clemenza di Tito. As you may remember, I first encountered this opera via the modern, rather conceptual Salzburg version and was keen to compare that with a more traditional production. Enter the Met, stage left, with their legendary, ultra-conservative version. It may not be the most cutting-edge production in the book, but it gave me a visual feast of fine gowns, billowing cloaks and fabulous wigs.

Continue reading

The Indian Queen: Henry Purcell (1695)

Purcell: The Indian Queen

★★

(English National Opera, 6 March 2015)

Reactions to English National Opera’s new production of The Indian Queen have been mixed. Some critics have praised it as a creative and courageous reworking of Purcell’s opera, which dares to acknowledge the atrocities carried out during the colonisation of the New World. Other people (friends and colleagues, thus, ordinary theatre-goers, not critics) have expressed bafflement and rising irritation. Apparently audience members have vanished during the intervals in a number of performances. It was clearly going to be a challenging experience but, when I went last Friday, I was nevertheless determined to enjoy it. But it didn’t quite work out like that.

Continue reading