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HomeOperahigh quality musical drama in ETO's revival of Handel's Ottone

high quality musical drama in ETO’s revival of Handel’s Ottone

Handel: Ottone - Nazan Fikret - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Handel: Ottone – Nazan Fikret – English Touring Opera (Picture Richard Hubert Smith)

Handel: Ottone; Elizabeth Karani, Nazan Fikret, Lauren Younger, James Corridor, Kieron-Connor Valentine, Edward Jowle, director: James Conway, conductor: Gerry Cornelius; English Touring Opera at Hackney Empire
Reviewed 1 October 2022 (★★★★)

Handel’s not often carried out Ottone in a revival of James Conway’s imaginative and slightly stunning manufacturing with a forged who have interaction us from the outset and take us on an actual emotional journey

English Touring Opera‘s Autumn season launched on Saturday (1 October 2022) with a revival of James Conway’s manufacturing of Handel’s Ottone on the Hackney Empire. This Autumn season is Conway’s farewell to the corporate, as he steps down as inventive director, and the season is a celebration of one of many firm’s strengths, performances of Baroque opera with three of Conway’s Handel productions being featured together with a brand new manufacturing of Tamerlano

And do not forget that the corporate is not nearly performing Baroque operas, uncommon bel canto, Mozart and later classics, it’s about touring as nicely. For the Autumn season seven venues throughout England will see some or all the programme. Throughout Conway’s 20 one thing years on the helm of English Touring Opera there have been a outstanding variety of operas by Handel and different Baroque composers, all taken spherical England in a means that no different firm can emulate.

James Conway‘s manufacturing of Handel’s Ottone was revived by Christopher Moon Little. The Outdated Road Band was carried out by Gerry Cornelius, ETO’s music director. Designs had been by takis and lighting was by Tim van’t Hof. Gillian Webster was resulting from sing the position of Gismonda, nonetheless owing to sickness her place was taken by Elizabeth Karani; evidently this occurred at quick discover, however Karani carried out the position on stage and gave little proof of her assumption being last-minute. Kieron-Connor Valentine was Adelberto, James Corridor was Ottone, Lauren Younger as Matilda, Nazan Fikret was Teofane and Edward Jowle was Emireno.

Handel: Ottone - James Hall - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Handel: Ottone – James Corridor – English Touring Opera (Picture Richard Hubert Smith)

Handel wrote Ottone in 1723 for what was maybe the best forged
but assembled in England, the castrato Senesino (Ottone), soprano Francesca
Cuzzoni (Teofane), alto castrato Gaetano Berenstadt (Adelberto) and soprano Margherita
Durastantini (Gismonda). It was Cuzzoni’s first opera for Handel and it was
enormously profitable, not solely receiving a goodly variety of
performances but in addition being revived repeatedly and even being taken to

This success has puzzled many current commentators. The opera’s libretto is
primarily based on one by Pallavicino written for Dresden and set by Antonio Lotti
in 1719. However it was subjected to some extreme compression by Handel and
his librettist Nicola Haym. The ultimate act specifically appears, on paper,
to not make sense. One other drawback with the opera is that the title
position, Ottone, is so moist and passive as to be nearly a dim-wit. Senesino,
who sang Ottone, specialised in pathetic roles (within the 18th century in
the sense ‘affecting the feelings’) however Ottone can appear to us to be pathetic in
the trendy sense.

The good advantage James Conway’s Handel productions from ETO is that he
takes the operas critically and tries to make them work as a stage piece.
Within the programme e-book of Ottone Conway talked about what drew
him to the opera, the outstanding scene in act two within the grotto/cave
the place every character change into extra themself and Conway twice makes use of the
idea of a fairy-tale. Ottone will not be naturalistic however tells a better fact, and Conway’s manufacturing was about every character’s journey slightly than worrying about naturalistic element of the narrative. Additionally it is about acquainted relations, that between Ottone and Matilda, the place she was betrothed to his enemy Adelberto and continues to be drawn to the person regardless of every little thing, and that between Adelberto and Gismonda, in some ways the mom from hell.

It maybe helped that ETO carried out a reduce model of the opera with round 150 minutes of music (Robert King’s recording on Hyperion lasts 174 minutes) with Conway and Peter Jones (who was accountable for the version) pruning the opera discreetly. This meant, I believe, that James Corridor’s Ottone misplaced a few of his droopier arias which lowered the character’s prominence however benefited the opera’s dramatic coherence.

The designs by takis had been easy however superb. The stage was a field, with blue curtained partitions. Inside this had been three buildings, sections of cylinders with curved tops in order that two might come collectively as an apse, the inside of which had elaborate ‘mosaics’ impressed by the Byzantine ones in Ravenna. The outer skins had been darkish copper, so with the buildings turned around the stage image modified. For the grotto scene, gentle shone by way of holes within the tops of the buildings to create magically dappled shade. The end result was easy, hanging, magical and extremely transportable. 

Handel: Ottone - Lauren Young - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Handel: Ottone – Lauren Younger – English Touring Opera (Picture Richard Hubert Smith)

The plot concerned the Emperor Ottone, James Corridor, (a personality
primarily based on a real tenth century Holy Roman Emperor) and his betrothed
the Byzantine princess Teofane (Nazan Fikret) who has simply arrived and
not met him but, Ottone has been busy capturing the pirate Emireno
(Edward Jowle). In Rome, Adelberto (Kieron-Connor Valentine) and his mom
Gismonda (Elizabeth Karani) stage a coup and Adelberto pretends to be
Ottone so he can marry Teofane, to her confusion. Ottone is alerted by
his sister Mathilde (Lauren Younger) and the marriage is prevented.
Mathilde has been betrothed to Adelberto, Teofane sees Mathilde and
Ottone collectively, errors them for lovers, and flees.

Adelberto and Emireno escape and find yourself in a grotto with Teofane
(described within the libretto as ‘A Backyard and Prospect of the Tiber, and
Fountains and Grottos, in considered one of which leads a Subterranean Passage,
closed up with a Stone’, although ETO consult with the situation as a cave). In
truth, everybody finally ends up right here at a while, stretching credulity however
giving the work a slightly mysterious high quality – again to James Conway’s fairy-tale. And naturally, all is
resolved in the long run.

So, does it work? The music is of a really excessive order and, regardless of
strictures from Winton Dean, does appear to be of a finely uniform
high quality and the singing was of a really excessive order. By concentrating on the person emotional journeys, we turned much less frightened about dramatic plausibility and extra engaged with every of the characters. The opera additionally has some intriguing musical options, not solely a duet (within the grotto) between two opposing characters, Gismonda (Elizabeth Karani) and Matilda (Lauren Younger) who briefly discover frequent objective, but in addition the second within the first half when Ottone (James Corridor) captured Adelberto (Kieron-Connor Valentine) and Corridor took over the second half of Valentine’s aria. Handel’s writing for the scenes within the grotto and for the later shipwreck carry out a component in his writing which turns into nearly Romantic!

Handel: Ottone - Edward Jowle, Nazan Fikret - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Handel: Ottone – Edward Jowle, Nazan Fikret – English Touring Opera (Picture Richard Hubert Smith)

James Corridor made a high quality, upstanding Ottone; it helped that he appeared the half, and the ‘pathetic’ ingredient got here out as stoicism slightly than him being merely a drip. Corridor sang his quicker passages with nice verve which introduced a extra energetic feeling to the character and was extremely sympathetic within the extra melancholy components. Corridor can also be singing Andronico within the new manufacturing of Tamerlano, and I’m now wanting ahead to this vastly.

Nazan Fikret made a fragile seeming Teofane. Topic to a lot but at all times surviving, Fikret may need drooped elegantly and successfully in her ‘pathetic’ arias, however she engaged us musically and recommended Teofane had stoic qualities of her personal, beneath. Fikret had an enticing means together with her music and at all times held the stage even when not being very optimistic, a high quality efficiency certainly.

Kieron-Connor Valentine was splendidly oily as Adelberto, efficiently suggesting the character’s dodgy nature and making Teofane’s lack of belief in him utterly plausible. Valentine mixed this weaselly ingredient to the character with a high quality method to the music, there was a lot to take pleasure in.

Gismonda was written for Margherita Durastantini, considered one of Handel’s longest collaborators (they first labored collectively in Rome in 1707) and evidently a high quality singing actress. Gismonda goes by way of an entire number of feelings; sure, she is pushy and manipulative, however she loves her son and her second within the grotto nearly makes her sympathetic. However not for lengthy, and in direction of the top of the opera she was again taunting Ottone, till Adelberto is introduced in captive by Emireno. All through this, Elizabeth Karani was mesmerising, nice great thing about tone softening the sting of the character, however with Karani nonetheless holding Gismonda’s great killer instincts. Undoubtedly the mom from hell.

Lauren Younger introduced out Matilda’s conflicted nature, the way in which that great vehemence alternated with doubt and affection for the weaselly Adelberto. That she nonetheless love’s such an unimpressive character was balanced by Younger’s sheer vividness in depicting the character, this Matilda was robust minded certainly. Younger gave us an energetic, extremely dramatic efficiency of this conflicted character and made us sit up when she sang.

Emireno is a small position, however vital. A pirate captured by Ottone, he’s concerned in Adelberto’s escape the place Teofane is caught up too. Ultimately brother and sister recognise one another, thus tying issues up neatly and when we now have the ultimate coro, there are thus a number of pairings, Ottone is betrothed to Teofane, Ottone & Matilda are siblings, Teofane & Emireno are siblings, Matilda is betrothed to Adelberto, and Gismonda is Adelberto’s mom. The type of neat tying up of ends that the 18th century dramatists liked. Edward Jowle managed to make Emireno a tough diamond, and introduced a plausible ingredient to the fairy story. Like many such roles in Handel, there was slightly too little for Jowle to get his tooth into, however this was his principal debut with ETO (he had beforehand sung within the refrain in 2017) and I sit up for listening to him do extra.

Within the pit, Gerry Cornelius and the Outdated Road Band (ETO’s interval instrument ensemble, based in 2011) gave us a robust account of the rating. Cornelius stored issues transferring, holding the music pacey and never permitting yawning gaps, in order that the drama rattled lengthy simply with pauses for the arias in a means which felt proper, and nicely paced.

The opera was sung in English (translated by Andrew Porter and James Conway) and while every little thing was not understandable, rather a lot was and with the assistance of the quick summaries within the surtitles we might comply with by way of the singers’ phrases slightly than listening to music while studying the plot by way of the surtitles.

Handel: Ottone - Kieron-Connor Valentine, Edward Jowle, James Hall, Nazran Fikret - English Touring Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Handel: Ottone – Kieron-Connor Valentine, Edward Jowle, James Corridor, Nazran Fikret – English Touring Opera (Picture Richard Hubert Smith)

The most effective tribute I could make to performers and manufacturing was that it grabbed us from the start and held our consideration all through with a way of vividness to the efficiency and actual improvement of character. You wished to know who these individuals had been and why. Ottone will not be the best of Handel’s operas, however he was a high quality musical dramatist and ETO confirmed that the opera is deserving of its place on the stage, slightly than merely being one thing of a curiosity.

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