Flavio (ETO, RCM 21 October)

Picture from aldeburgh.co.uk

Picture from aldeburgh.co.uk

So  a visit to another world, or rather more than one of them–first of all South Kensington, which is so obviously not a part of London that only foreigners (and a few dinosaurs) live there.  And then to the world of Handel’s operas,

dove ignoto è ancora
Al nostro mondo il mondo

to quote Emilia  (though we actually had the words in a pretty sprightly English translation).

A world indeed still unknown to our world where characters comment on the emotions they might be feeling rather than displaying them; where the music shows commendable economy in reusing the same material many times over without the precision you might expect in something called the Britten Theatre; where it all too often points to generalised settings of ‘lugubrious’ or ‘self-satisfied’ rather than engaging with the action and emotions; where you build your expectations for a heroic  tenor declamation and you get a counter-tenor; where (as my companion observed, since we were sitting in the front row) the strings don’t have proper bows; where the lady sitting next to me told me off for laughing in the interval and spoiling her recital of the complete contents of the programme to her partner; where damned few of the audience are going to see 70 again, never mind 60.

Words came out in the likeness of a wreathed vagina pouring out Handel–

And this was the worse kind: in the other kind there’s some classical or Biblical story to hold on to so at least you’re not entirely carried away to the altro mondo di noia.

Anyway, the thing began and the set consisted of a plain box painted blue while props comprised many red-bound books for characters to obediently consult or tear pages out of in a rage; or in the alternative daggers.  Sometimes daggers were hidden or mislaid in books just for a change.  And the lighting (credited to Kevin Treacy) did wonders in creating interesting and lending variety without much help from, well, the music was the main culprit since I think translation improved the words in this case.

So in the first act I oriented myself in this unfamiliar universe and the process was quite interesting even if the universe wasn’t.  Then I spent the second act mostly sunk in despair that it really was going to be like this and contemplating revenge on my various enemies, rather like a Handelian hero but without the obsessive repetition.

Then having adjusted myself to the Lilliputian scale of things, I found I was quite interested: the music came into focus as Emilia agonised over whether to kill her betrothed Guido after he had despatched her father Lotario, and I even forgave Guido for being a countertenor.

Then the third act passed in really quite sprightly fashion as Emilia (Paula Sides) and Guido (James Laing) agonised,  Flavio (Clint van der Linde) reunited Teodata (Carolyn Dobbin) and Vitige (Angelica Voje) with even five seconds or so of humour; and everything ended happily with more than one person being allowed to sing at the same time as a special treat.

Actually I thought all the singers did very well, especially in not dying of boredom at an early stage of the proceedings–Carolyn Dubbin provided the best acting skills in the soubrette role, while Paula Sides probably had the most demanding part to master and did so very well.

So well done to everyone, and especially me for even managing to enjoy it!

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