Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Prom 54 - Mozart's Last Year with the Budapest Festival Orchestra

The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

G. F. Handel: Poro, Re dell’Indie (Royal College of Music - 2007)
30 Mar 2007

HANDEL: Poro, Re dell’Indie

Let’s face it, Handel’s “Poro, Re dell’Indie” (in English “Porus, King of India”) isn’t exactly a household name in any but the most dedicated baroque opera circles.

G. F. Handel: Poro, Re dell’Indie

30th London Handel Festival
Royal College of Music, 28 March 2007

ABOVE: Christopher Ainslie and Nathan Vale (Photo courtesy of RCM)

 

It was completed and performed in 1731, in a typically fecund period of his life, being squeezed in between the light-hearted “Partenope” and the rather less obviously endearing “Ezio”. After 16 performances and a couple of quick revivals, that was it until the German exploration of the canon in the first half of the 20th century.

In the current boom years (as they must surely be called) for baroque opera, “Poro” has not been at the top of the agenda for most directors or conductors. Musically it has some fine arias and duets, but it suffers from a clunky plot with holes as large as a Mughal elephant’s foot. The characterisations can be laughable – literally – and even the most intricate and melodic of Handel’s compositions cannot save it from a kind of dramatic purgatory.

The libretto, adapted from Metastasio’s “Alessandro nell’Indie”, centres around a love-triangle taken from an actual event in recorded history. Alexander the Great in his march east defeats and captures an Indian king, Poro. Poro’s beloved, Queen Cleofide of a neighbouring Indian kingdom, seeks to help Poro by pretending to love the invader….and thus sets in motion a web of jealousy, mistaken identity and the usual Handelian sub-plot of secondary lovers (not in the recorded history) caught up in the spokes of confusion that surround the main protagonists.

In his day, Handel was happy to ignore any lack of dramatic cohesion because he knew he could rely on his own brilliance, and that of his three top-flight singers, to distract the ear and eye. The title role was created for, and by, the legendary alto castrato Senesino, that of Alessandro for the remarkable Italian tenor Annibale Pio Fabri, and the prima donna role of Cleofide for Anna Strada del Pò. And to this day the success of this opera depends absolutely upon the quality of the singing – and the modern day director has to rise to the considerable challenge of overcoming the dramatic shortcomings.

This production for the London Handel Festival, featuring young opera singers from the UK on the cusp of professional careers and a fluent, intelligent production by Christopher Cowell, rose to both challenges with aplomb and almost complete success. It was heartening to hear so many fine young voices now singing this repertoire with verve and style, and showing at least the beginnings of true stage awareness – even if nearly all badly needed lessons in deportment. A king or general should stand and look like a king or general, at least in a production that requires “realistic for the age” acting.

The part of Alessandro, part-time conquering hero and (in this production at least) full-time philosopher and marriage-guidance counsellor, was taken by Nathan Vale. This young tenor last year won the Handel Singing Competition from some high class opposition, and was obviously popular with the crowd at this, final, performance in the run. His tenor is very flexible and has an interesting darkness in the timbre that suggests that it may develop into something rather different, given time. His control in the many, many divisions (almost armies) of semi-quavers that his character is blessed with was remarkable. Tonally, he was generally consistent and smooth through the range, although he needs to learn to put more light and shade, more variation of dynamic, into his singing in response to the text; sometimes the machine-gun delivery quite took over from the meaning of the words themselves. But a most satisfying performance – it would be good to hear him in more legato material.

His rival in love and war, Poro, was sung by countertenor Christopher Ainslie and after a slightly shaky start his voice was the one which probably improved most during the evening’s entertainment. He has a strong, well-supported, alto voice with no hoot or wobble and – in contrast to Vale – had plenty of opportunity to display his natural ease and skill with the more poignant and reflective arias that Handel wrote for the master of that genre in the 1730’s. His acting skills were to be applauded too – he managed to find a number of ways to continually display jealousy without succumbing to routine.

The focus of both men’s attention as Queen Cleofide was Ruby Hughes, a young soprano with considerable gifts. She has a warm, expressive and easy soprano that gave promise of some weight and power to come, and of all the singers perhaps gave the most finished performance. Articulation, intonation, colour and dynamic were all there, and she has an attractive stage presence. Again, like the other young singers, she could benefit from some intensive “how to walk and stand” training, but that is easily fixed, and no doubt will be.

The more minor roles were taken by bass Hakan Ekenas (Timagene) of whom one wished for more in the way of arias as his voice was very appealing, and sounded quite at home in the idiom; mezzo Madeleine Pierard (Erissena) who, like Ainslie, grew in stature through the evening but lacked slightly in consistency; and countertenor Andrew Pickett (Gandarte) who had expressive moments but struggled a little with the recitatives in particular.

Although this opera tends to the London Bus style of format, (there’s always another da capo aria coming along behind), it is thankfully interspersed with some wonderful duets and ensembles – of which the Act Two “Caro amico amplesso” between Poro and Cleofide is an example. It wasn’t actually included in the Metastasio libretto but Handel decided to transplant it here from his “Aci, Galatea e Polifemo” – and all the better for it. Ainslie and Hughes’ work together here was delicious.

Throughout, Laurence Cummings kept the augmented London Handel Orchestra on its toes and allowed no unnecessary lingering – a good idea with this piece. As ever they were very stylish, and also rather less astringent than I have heard them, with some neat work from the flute and oboes in particular.

The production itself was in the “elegant but inexpensive” category, the costumes of old India and some vaguely 18th military gear for the Greeks supplying most of the vibrant colour and sparkle whilst the simple backdrop of gauzes were lit appropriately as the story progressed. A single hanging metre of vivid blue silk depicted the River Hidaspes, which divides the opposing camps, and with the exception of the odd cut-out tree and tea-chest, that was about it. But it worked. Cowell managed to get across the idea – one which Handel espouses in the music – of a meeting of cultures with mutual respect for each other. If there was a problem it was of our own making, in that the incredibly understanding, generous and fair-minded Alessandro was just too good to be true and we laughed. In 1731, I suspect, Handel’s audience would have been impressed and satisfied that those in power should show such noble and selfless ideals – it did rather remind us of how cynical we have become.

© Sue Loder 2007

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):