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Handel - Flavio

Early Opera Company Queen Elisabeth Hall. London - 6 July 2005

It was a programme of complete visual contrasts that the Early Opera Company presented to their audience at the QEH on Wednesday. To the left of the platform lit by a mellow candlelight like glow, was Musical Director Christian Curnyn closely surrounded by his ensemble of instrumentalists. Just such as a grouping as you could imagine Handel gathering together at his house in Brook Street (well worth a visit - see www.handelhouse.org) or at the Royal Academy of Music for whose performance Flavio was written in 1723.

The remainder of the platform was dominated by a pair of giant screens on which were projected a sequence of still pictures and video clips, leaving a long shallow strip in front on which the singers, in 60's pop art costumes, played out the drama.

The plot is a satire of sorts in which Guido and Emilia, the son and daughter of rival courtiers, prepare for their wedding whilst Flavio, the playboy king, attempts to seduce Guido's sister, Teodata, whilst her lover, Vitige, tries to hide his jealousy. A row breaks out which culminates in Guido killing his father-in-law to be and it looks as though the wedding will be called off. In the last Act the king finally faces up to dignity of his office and assumes control. The two pair of lovers are reunited and the remaining father is despatched to the apparently dubious honour of appointment as governor of England .

On screen the cast appeared in the filmed sequences, at times providing a vision of the images passing through the minds of the characters - a kitchen based life of domestic bliss for Emilia, whilst Guido enjoys more carnal fantasies. At other times the mood of the drama was reflected in icons and still images ranging from roses to long decimal numbers. The direction and combination of this screen imagery with the stage action was skilfully and amusingly handled by Netia Jones, though at times I felt there was almost a visual overload. Then, of course, I could always turn my eyes to the more restful colours and relative simplicity of the instrumental ensemble.

Curnyn conducts with focused intensity, and drew a finely detailed and sumptuous performance from his small orchestra. The quality of the singing matched this excellence, and the whole cast equitted themselves most ably. Special mention should go to Claire Booth (Emilia), combining virtuosity with some lively acting, Stephen Wallace (Guido) drawing real tenderness from his B flat minor aria "Amor, nel mio penar", and to Philip Salmon, who took over the role of Ugone (Joseph Cornwell who withdrew because of a family bereavement) and sang from a score at the back of the orchestra with exemplary diction, whilst an actor appeared on stage. Andrew Radley (Flavio) managed the transition from clown to statesman with aplomb, and Kim-Marie Woodhouse (Teodata) played up the flirtatious opportunities of her role. My only reservation is that I would have liked to have heard rather more of the words of the English translation by Andrew V Jones. Overall an entertaining and musically satisfying evening that can safely be recommended.

The production now moves to the Iford Festival (www.ifordarts.co.uk) where a further 5 performances are scheduled.

Serena Fenwick

° Another production of Flavio by New York City Opera

Flavio at HandelFest 2009

English Touring Opera
Britten Theatre, London 21 October 2009

This spare staging of one of the lesser known Handel operas has been generally liked but we found it, and indeed the opera itself, unengaging.

The programme book for ETO's Handelfest project is lavish indeed, but we found ourselves unpersuaded by its (anonymous) author's defence of the standard Handel da-capo aria formula, which "suits the need of the audience, the singers, the composer and the drama", drawing on Burney to insist that "the reprise drives home the message, with the ornamentation giving brilliance to a furious mood and making a tragic mood utterly heartbreaking"- - -.

Not so for us in the 21st Century, and Joanna Parker’s very simple set design left the whole thing as little more than semi-staged; I think we would have enjoyed more the EOC's production at the Queen Elisabeth Hall reviewed above, enlivened by " a pair of giant screens on which were projected a sequence of still pictures and video clips - screen imagery with the stage action skilfully and amusingly handled by Netia Jones".The singing at the Britten Theatre was decent to good, with the words (no surtitles) variably decipherable. From our seats upstairs we found the baroque strings a little rough, if historically correct; occasionally mollified by oboes and a sweet flute.

Our doubts about today's fashionable Handel opera celebration are shared and best expressed by Rupert Christiansen who, whilst not yet a convert did feel his resistance to the 'clunking overall dramatic rhythm of these operas' weakening. Handel operas usually make for long evenings, and we have done better with some of them on DVD, taken an Act at a time.

Peter Grahame Woolf








© Peter Grahame Woolf