Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



Marina De Liso as Arsace [Photo by Marco Caselli Nirmal]
01 Feb 2009

Partenope in Ferrara

The Greek princes Arsace (alto) and Armindo (alto) are seeking handsome Queen Partenope (soprano), who has just founded the city of Naples, in marriage.

Georg Friedrich Händel: Partenope
Teatro Comunale, Ferrara, Italy. Performance of 18 January 2009

Partenope, Queen of Naples — Elena Monti; Arsace, Prince of Corinth — Marina De Liso; Rosmira/Eurimene, his former beloved — Sonia Prina; Armindo, Prince of Rhodes — Valentina Varriale; Emilio, Prince of Cumae — Cyril Auvity; Ormonte, Partenope’s counsellor — Gianpiero Ruggeri. Giuseppe Frigeni, director. Ottavio Dantone, conductor. Accademia Bizantina (with original instruments).

Above: Marina De Liso as Arsace

All photos by Marco Caselli Nirmal


Partenope is attracted to Arsace, without knowing that he has previously abandoned Rosmira, who now — disguised as a chieftain under the fictional name of Eurimene from Armenia — arrives in Naples with the aim of winning him back. A third prince, Emilio from the nearby reign of Cumae (tenor), declares war on Partenope, offering marriage for peace. His attack, however, is easily rebuked by the joint forces of the queen and her lovers, so Emilio is detained at Partenope’s court as in a chivalrous prison camp of sorts. Rosmira/Eurimene secretly confronts Arsace demanding that he keep her true identity covered, then provokes him publicly in every possible manner. In the end, she challenges him to a duel in a court of honor, but must withdraw as he puts the condition that they fight stripped to the waist. Partenope decides to marry Armindo, orders that repentant Arsace be reunited to Rosmira and sends back Emilio to Cumae on friendly terms.

A bit too madcap by the average standard of early opera seria, Silvio Stampiglia’s libretto was written for Naples in 1699 and subsequently set by several composers. Rather than in outstanding literary or dramatic merit, the secret of its popularity may lie in the variety of situations and the panoply of stock affetti associated to them. One would like to call Partenope a Baroque sitcom, now and then on the verge of vaudeville. A radical admirer, none less than Edward J. Dent, affected to find in it something of a Shakespearean atmosphere, apparently referring to the bittersweet climate of The Twelfth Night rather than to the Bard’s tragedies or history plays. As recently argued by the British Handel scholar David Vickers: ‘The plot offers ample scope for emotional intensity, insightful characterization, wit, sexual innuendo, and profound despair’. This is probably what most appealed to Handel, who, after an abortive attempt in 1726, succeeded to present his own setting of Partenope to the London public in 1730. After two not-too-successful runs in that year at the King’s Theatre, and a nearly disastrous revival in 1737 at the Covent Garden, Partenope disappeared for two centuries. Modern revivals in German and English translations started at the Göttingen Handel Festival in 1935 and went forth, if very sparsely, until 1998, when the original Italian libretto resurfaced in Cooperstown, NY, and in New York City. The present staging at Ferrara — scheduled to circulate later in Modena, Naples and Montpellier, France — was, believe it or not, the opera’s Italian premiere ever.

To devout Handelians like myself (as opposed to sane folk who would object to sitting at the opera for three-and-a-half hours), the experience of hearing live an almost uncut score of the Harmonious Blacksmith is increasingly rare and a potential source of delight. It did not happen this time. In addition to its unusually high number of arias, Partenope has a remarkably prominent number of ensembles (eight, including two choruses), two accompanied recitatives and some flamboyant instrumental music of a warlike character. Ottavio Dantone’s performing version, essentially based on Handel’s first version of three, pruned 8 out of 48 set pieces: four arias for Arsace, as many for Partenope, and one for Armindo — which seems a generous appeasement with modern listening habits.

Partenope_Ferrara_02.pngElena Monti as Partenope, Sonia Prina as Rosmira

Nevertheless, there was still much left to cherish. First of all, a classy ensemble of voices, all well versed in period performing practice. A trio of ladies shared the best applause: as the de-facto protagonist Arsace, Marina De Liso sketched an enigmatic and irresolute anti-hero; nonetheless, her cleanly secure intonation, refined uttering and elegant coloratura were glorious throughout. As Rosmira/Eurimene, Sonia Prina towered as the relentless powerhouse she usually is onstage, sparking a regular ovation in her defiant aria ‘Io seguo sol fiero’ with obbligato horns and oboes. Valentina Varriale, as the moonstruck Armindo who finally gets the girl, impressed for the sheer beauty of her color, dark and fully fleshed-out. The quiet lilt of her heart-rending andante ‘Non chiedo, o luci vaghe’ conveyed all the elegy of selfless love, quite Arcadian-style.

Partenope_Ferrara_03.pngSonia Prina as Rosmira, Gianpiero Ruggeri as Ormonte, Cyril Auvity as Emilio, Marina De Liso as Arsace

In the title role, Elena Monti embodied the seductive, authoritative and slightly vindictive nature of her character almost to perfection. Depriving her of her signature aria ‘Qual farfalletta’, towards the end of Act II, was indeed insensitive. Both Emilio and Partenope’s chamberlain Ormonte (bass) are deadpan roles, yet their respective performers Cyril Auvity and Gianpiero Ruggeri came out egregiously for their assured technique, also showing a firm grip of style requirements. In the remote confrontation with the role-creator Annibale Fabri (a virtuoso from Bologna who managed to become a lone tenor star in the age of castrati), Auvity had to struggle hard with a terrific range and treacherous coloratura. He emerged unscathed, albeit switching to a peculiar mixed utterance at the upper and lower ends of his tessitura. Who knows whether Fabri, described by a contemporary British observer as ‘a very good master of musick’ did the same?

Partenope_Ferrara_04.pngSonia Prina as Rosmira, Valentina Varriale as Armindo

Giuseppe Frigeni’s integrated light-set-direction design and Regina Martino’s costumes provided a lesson of how to approach early opera without either irreverent gimmicks or cheap archaeological historicism. Their easily recognizable color codes, applied to studies in abstract perspective resembling chessboards, their luxuriant headpieces and peacock-shaped gowns for everybody (whether males, females or cross-dressers), conveyed a quintessential Spirit of Baroque — somewhat near to the Beijing Opera, where a single flag stands for ten thousand warriors or a model ship for whole fleets. Body language and perusal of stage space did fit admirably into the frame.

Antonio Florio and his (Naples-based) Pietà dei Turchini were slated to steer this important production. In the end, they declined because of budget disagreements, so the baton passed onto Dantone, whose period band Accademia Bizantina can stand on equal footing with any such ensemble in Italy. Indeed, they brought the wondrous machine to triumph and were awarded full honors; only a few skipped notes in the natural brasses gave evidence of limited rehearsing time, but this may improve later in the tour.

Carlo Vitali

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):