Opera companies make national headlines only when something goes bad. So it wasn’t great when the English touring opera splattered throughout the news earlier this month after the enthusiastic interpretation of the Arts Council’s diversity guidance led to a “fire” (normal freelance contract, Many go back decades, but it wasn’t the renewal of the 14 white members of the orchestra).
It’s really a shame because the company is probably doing most of the work in the local community to make a real difference to the issues that were decided long before reaching the professional level. In the early years of school and career.
Returning to the stage with Handel’s new, lesser-known “magical opera” Amadigi this month, ETO barely calmed the feeling that this was a costume experiencing a minor identity crisis.
No one claims the splendor of a work that is a fairly slight love struggle between a storybook equivalent of a knight, a sorcerer, and a suffering maiden. But Amadigi has a lot of good music, especially for the opposing villain Melissa, who has a piece of real sensation that is worth more than the turmoil we get here.
Director James Conway doesn’t seem to know whether he wants to direct comedy or tragedy (opera can go in either direction), so instead we’re lurking between the two. Neil Irish’s noisy set is useless and reaches for the collapsing grandeur of Melissa’s magical temple, but only provides squeaks, sound-associative doors, and distracting video projections.
Despite a lot of things happening, the cast seems to lack both what to do and why to do it. Oriana is knitting a scarf. Amadigi does Tai Chi. Melissa magically roams like an extra from Macbeth. For what? I’m not sure.
The song is ok. Harriet Eiley’s Oriana has bright buttons and is a slightly darker tone foil from William Towers’ Amadigi. Rebecca Afonwy-Jones is on a cliff, appealing to Dardanus and enjoying the opera knockout aria “Penatiranna” with the help of the bassoon of Philip Turbet. Jonathan Peter Kenny’s band plays loud and undifferentiated.
This is not an opera, or ETO, at its best. Handel’s magic does not require a large budget set or a loud voice. It needs clarity, wit, and truth. None of these are much evidence here.
Amadigi is touring until November 17th