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David DQ Lee (Radamisto), Inga Kalna (Polissena) and Florian Boesch (Tiridate) [May 2007] Photo © Karl Forster/Hamburg Staatsoper.
15 Oct 2007

Handel’s “Radamisto” revisited with mixed results in Hamburg

A remarkably quick turnaround from only last May when the first run of Handel’s “Radamisto” was blessed with a consistently high level of vocal performance may have been the reason for sparser houses this time round at the Hamburg Staatsoper (October 6th).

G. F. Handel: Radamisto
Hamburg Staatsoper, 6 October 2007

Above: David DQ Lee (Radamisto), Inga Kalna (Polissena) and Florian Boesch (Tiridate) [May 2007]
Photo © Karl Forster/Hamburg Staatsoper.


Those first shows had been well received both domestically and internationally, with some outstanding singing from Maite Beaumont, Inga Kalna and David DQ Lee. Unfortunately, the revival only managed to retain the luminously warm-timbre’d Lee in the title role and neither Deborah Humble as Zenobia nor Trine Wilsberg Lund as Polissena could quite match their predecessors, although the latter had some good moments. Also retained from the previous cast were baritone Florian Boesch, required to play the tyrant Tiridate as a ridiculously pantomime villain, bass Tim Mirfin as an elderly King Farasmane, and Hellen Kwon as Prince Tigrane. Christiane Karg stood in at only 3 days notice to play Fraarte.

Marco Arturo Marelli’s intelligent but visually frantic production (he is responsible for direction and the set/lighting) remains little changed and is not singer-friendly; in the great tradition of modern German opera it seems to relegate the music to some minor by-way of the director’s mind. Handelian purists would be best advised to avoid this production where tragedy is degraded to vaudeville, and odd conflations of the plot make an already complex story dramatically questionable. Luckily, Mr. Handel could cope (doesn’t he always?) despite some ragged and sometimes lumpen playing of this marvellous score under the benign and undemanding conducting of Martin Haselböck. One exception: the natural horns were, on the third night, extremely proficient — no easy feat.

Yet there were vocal highlights that rose above this mish-mash of directorial conceits and bland playing, and they included the strong dramatic singing of Boesch, who could colour his upstanding baritone from cooing suitor to bombastic tyrant with ease, the precise and pleasing coloratura of Kwon, not a natural baroque singer, who warmed to her task in the later acts. Wilsberg Lund as a feisty Polissena also sang Sposo ingrate, parto sì with commendable vigour and passion as she strode about the stage packing her things to leave her unfaithful husband — literally a “suitcase aria” in this production. Most impressive of all was the beautifully articulated, warmly sensuous singing of David DQ Lee as the much-troubled Radamisto. He has a free and easy top that cries out for the higher-lying Handelian castrato roles (popping a high B flat with nonchalance during his “rage aria” Vile! Se mi dai vita) and he achieved neatly executed divisions whilst convincing entirely with his acting. If, in his lower range, he fought to be heard on occasion above an orchestra that sounded as if they only had one dynamic in their range, that was partly due to the director’s odd insistence on placing him way upstage for most of his arias. When finally allowed just to sit quietly downstage and sing, his “Qual nave smaritta” would be hard to better by any countertenor singing today and showed what an exciting young talent he is.

Sue Loder © 2007

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