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By Giove

In Baroque, Classical Music, Handel, Opera, Review on March 30, 2015 at 4:40 pm

Review – Giove in Argo (London Handel Festival, Britten Theatre, Thursday 26 March 2015)

Liacone – Timothy Connor
Diana – He Wu
Iside – Kezia Bienek
Arete – Gyula Rab
Calisto – Galina Averna
Erasto/Osiri – Timothy Nelson
Chorus – Tara Austin, Katie Coventry, James Davies, Sarah Hayashi, Catriona Hewitson, Polly Leech, Julian van Mellaerts & Joel Williams

Director – James Bonas
Designer – Molly Einchcomb
Lighting Designer – Rob Casey
Choreographer – Ewan Jones

London Handel Orchestra
Laurence Cummings (Conductor)

It’s refreshing that you don’t have to rely on Covent Garden or English National Opera for performances of Handel operas, especially when they are performed with a consistency both of singing and staging that would put some productions at the bigger houses to shame.

Giove in Argo was written – or rather pulled together – during the final throes of Handel’s operatic career in London and his burgeoning move into English oratorio. None of the arias was newly composed for Giove, but rather lifted from other operas but even the richness of the arias themselves could stop Giove ultimately being a failure.

A shame as – despite its provenance – it’s a compelling opera especially when performed and staged so excellently by the London Handel Festival.

I saw the ‘second’ cast on the final night and overall the quality of their singing and interpretation was of a very high standard. Gyula Rab, in his final year at the Royal College of Music, definitely has a promising career ahead of him. His Arete – Giove in disguise – was both well-sung and acted. His tenor might be slightly heavier than you would expect in Handel but the warmth and depth of his tone – beautifully evident in Deh! V’aprite, O luci belle – was coupled with both impressive range and a vocal flexibility that made light work of Semplicetto! A donna credi? and Sempre dolci ed amorose. However, I would caution that like the rest of the cast, his returning da capos showed a lack of restraint in their often over ambitious ornamentation.

As Iside, the first of his two amours, Kezie Bienek is also destined for a promising career, with a mezzo that is burnished and darkly hued but with an impressive top and an agility that suits this music well. Her ‘mad scene’ was smartly tempered and shaded and also demonstrated that she is an accomplished actress. As her spouse, Timothy Nelson’s Erasto was equally impressive. Sporting a resonant and rich bass, he made much of what was – admittedly – not great Handel.

Galina Averina reveled in the role of Calisto. Her bright soprano made light work of the quicker numbers such as Lascia la spina and Combattuta da più venti and a very respectable Tornami a vagheggiar. But it was in the her slower numbers, Già sai che l’usignol cantando geme and in particular Ah! Non son io che parlo that she married it with a depth and weight that made the latter aria the highlight of the evening. And finally, having admired He Wu’s Queen of the Night previously at the RCM, I have to admit I was disappointed with her Diana. A distracting vibrato distracted in Handel’s glorious Ingannarmi, cara speranza and wayward intonation and troubled coloratura marred In braccio al tuo spavento.

Giove in Argo is unusual in having more than the usual number of choruses, but this production was blessed with a chorus that not only sang wonderfully but fully embraced their parts and acted wonderfully as well. From their opening chorus, through the cleverly directed Viver, e non amar to the sonorous S’unisce al tuo martir, these eight singers were an object lesson in clear, handsomely articulated singing.

James Bonas’ Argo might not have been an Arcadian paradise but this was a well-thought out and cleverly observed production, which must be commended for creating a convincing setting with minimal materials. His was a world, in many ways of both violence and brutality. The ‘trees’ of metal scaffolding, as well as affording the singers and chorus with ample climbing opportunities, underlined this harsh world as did the Samurai-inspired themed costumes for both chorus and Diana. Indeed, in many ways, Bonas’ approach reminded me of McVicar’s Clemenza di Tito for ENO many years ago. I noticed in the programme that he will be directing ETO’s Tales of Hoffman and I will be interested to see what his vision is for Offenbach’s opera.

The London Handel Orchestra, conducted by Laurence Cummings were, as ever, brilliant. From the opening notes of the overture to the final chorus, Cummings led singers and orchestra with authority that made me wish that more complete and staged operas could be offered during this exceptional festival.

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Capital(ist) Flute

In Classical Music, Mozart, Opera, Review on December 2, 2014 at 8:57 am

Review – Die Zauberflöte (Royal College of Music, Britten Theatre, Saturday 29 November 2014)

Tamino – Nick Pritchard
Papageno – Timothy Connor
Pamina – Sofia Larsson
Die Konigin der Nacht – He Wu
Sarastro – Matthew Buswell
Drei Damen – Gemma Lois Summerfield, Angela Simkin & Maria Ostroukhova
Drei Knabe – Louise Fuller, Katie Coventry & Polly Leech
Papagena – Turiya Haudenhuyse
Monostratos – Peter Aisher

Director – Jean-Claude Auvray
Designer – Ruari Murchison
Lighting Designer – Michael Doubleday

Royal College of Music Orchestra

Michael Rosewell (Conductor)

The Britten Theatre was the perfect venue for a very strong production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte by the students of the Royal College of Music under the direction of Michael Rosewell.

There’s something almost ‘life affirming’ about attending a performance of such high musical, vocal and instrumental standards, performed with such passion, commitment and – in the case of Timothy Connor’s Papageno – cheeky verve.

While they have years ahead of them to forge the refine their vocal talents, the cast were uniformly strong but the stand out performers for me was Nick Pritchard’s Tamino and Timothy Connor’s Papageno. While he may have tired mid-way through the Second Act his tenor was bright and forthright but he also displayed that oft-missing subtlety of tone and dynamic control that even today’s more tenured tenors lack. He shaped his phrases beautifully and also exuded that naivety that is essential for Tamino. Timothy Connor played his unwilling side-kick very well, finding the right balance between slapstick humour and pathos. His diction – even when speaking – was very good and like Tamino, he elegantly shaped the vocal line intelligently. His duet with Pamina – Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen – similarly displayed that he has a natural ability to blend with other singers.

As Tamino’s future bride, Sofia Larsson demonstrated that she had all the notes for the role with a bright top and the ability to spin the most sensuous legato line. Over time I have no doubt that she will increase her range of colours but like Pritchard, I think they are destined for a bright future. He Wu and her three ladies were all equally impressive – with some of the best ensemble singing and acting I have seen by the Three Ladies – Mesdames Summerfield, Simkin and Ostroukhova and I particularly enjoyed the latter’s smoky, resonant singing. Ms Wu was a formidable Konigin, with pin-point accuracy in the coloratura but also investing overall in the precision of her singing and with excellent diction. Again, as her voice matures she will be able to colour what is – quite clearly – an remarkable instrument. Matthew Buswell’s Sarastro deployed a notable bass voice – both rich and resonant – but I did feel that sometimes there was both a lack of clarity in his diction and his singing.

In the pit, Michael Rosewell drew exemplary playing from the student orchestra, with especially fine and pungent playing from the brass. His ensured that the music was transparent and clear but I did feel that some of his tempi were a little fast.

And I am not quite sure that “Greed Is Good” was quite the moral that Mozart intended for Die Zauberflöte, which was the conclusion that I drew from Jean-Claude Auvray’s production. But while the idea of lauding of wealth as the answer for wisdom might seem a strange approach, I did enjoy his simple, no-nonsense approach. The idea of ‘revelation’ through the opening and closing of the central set was smartly done and surprisingly didn’t feel over-used or tired by the end. And the Drei Knaben caught the awkwardness of youth very smartly.

The entire production made for a very rewarding evening and I look forward to seeing their production of Handel’s Giove in Argo in 2015.

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