10 Oct 2010
Technicolour Radamisto at ENO
Handel’s Radamisto came to the ENO at the Coliseum in glorious technicolour.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
Handel’s Radamisto came to the ENO at the Coliseum in glorious technicolour.
Images of Asia proliferate polygamously — Mughal India, Tokugawa Japan, and Chinese restaurant chic, tumbled randomly together. The text, of course, mentions Armenia. Visual indigestion, if you’re culturally aware. But to Handel and his audiences, specifics didn’t matter. Radamisto is a morality tale which transcends time and place.
Tiridate (Ryan McKinny) lusts for Zenobia (Christine Rice) who’s happily married to Radamisto (Lawrence Zazza). To win her he’ll drop his wife Polissena (Sophie Bevan) and usurp Farasmane’s kingdom (Henry Waddington). But Zenobia’s having nothing of it. She’d rather die than be unfaithful. Subplots and complications (they’re all family, for example) are decorative embellishments. The basic message is surprisingly simple: love overcomes all.
This fundamental chastity pervades the whole opera. Structurally, it’s very tight. In neat succession, set piece arias follow one another, allowing each singer to display his or her vocal virtuosity.Simplicity of form, allowing inventive elaboration without blurring the basic line. Much like the set designs. Despite being floridly over the top, these designs are much more minimal than appear at first.
Christine Rice as Zenobia and Lawrence Zazzo as Radamisto
Lawrence Zazzo’s Radamisto is superb. His tessitura isn’t forced but flows well, carefully modulated and well-judged, important in a role which stresses integrity. The extended rhapsody on honour is particularly striking, decorations extending each word, yet flowing naturally, without affectation. You marvel at the inventiveness, but also meditate on meaning. Honour does matter, Radamisto keeps saying as he and Zenobia amply demonstrate. These aren’t just “words”, dwelling on them serves a moral as well as artistic purpose.
The contrast between Radamisto and Tiridate is enhanced counterbalancing Zazzo’s countertenor with Ryan McKinny’s bass-baritone. In baroque, low voices often signify villains, but McKinny doesn’t overdo the inherent power in his voice. Instead he relies on subtle expression, using agile legato. In any case, refinement enhances the role. Tiridate holds a sword poised to kill Radamisto, but the long, lyrical elaboration deflects the menace, Reality, in Handel, is deeper than it seems on the surface.
Christine Rice is exquisitely dignified and gracious. In Carmen, she seemed inhibited, and even as Ariadne in Birtwistle’s The Minotaur she didn’t access the kinkier aspects of the role. As Zenobia, however, she’s ideal. Her patrician reserve perfectly fits the role, so she can create Zenobia’s compelling beauty with her voice. Sophie Bevan’s Polissena and Henry Waddington’s Farasmane impressed too. Ailish Tynan’s Tigrane reached notes higher than might be expected.
Scene from Radamisto
So what was my biggest misgiving about this production? David Alden depicts Tigrane as a grotesque, a camp cross between Sidney Greenstreet and King Farouk, but for no conceivable purpose. Is he trying to inject comic humour? Perhaps it works in a grubby sort of way but it jars with the noble import of this opera. The whole point, for Handel, was to edify. The idea of morality trouncing tyranny was inherently racy in a time when absolute monarchy still held sway. Besides, Tigrane is arguably a hero since it’s he who selflessly resolves matters. This portrayal is misogynistic and homophobic, completely pointless. Admittedly it was part of the 2008 Santa Fe premiere but it’s still deeply offensive and should be dropped.
What Alden lacks in sensitivity, Laurence Cummings made up for with the orchestra, who played with brio under his direction.