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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).
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