Image borrowed from www.roh.org.uk

Image borrowed from http://www.roh.org.uk

I had a very entertaining time at the opera last night. I have to say, my expectations were not the highest, given that (a) they were flogging off 600 unsold (expensive) seats as £10 Student Standbys (standbies?) and (b) a friend who had been the previous week told me that it would cure my insomnia. Fortunately my expectations were proved wrong, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

All musicians involved were of an excellent standard. Although I’m no great lover of period instruments, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment were spot on, and directed with almost unbelievable precision and general all-round perfection by Mackerras. Even less than period instruments do I like countertenors, and despite the efforts of acquaintances to convince me of their worth, I find the sound, to be honest, unpleasant. Nevertheless, Bejun Mehta (Orlando) exhibited some cracking coluratura in the fast sections and delicately expressive phrasing in the slow ones, which impressed me even though, when it comes down to it, I dislike the timbre of his voice. Being more a fan of the deeper male voices (as anyone who knows me will be aware), I much preferred listening to Kyle Ketelsen’s Zoroastro, and just wished he had more to sing. Although Ketelsen’s tone is gorgeous and technique impressive, I found him a little quiet for my taste at the start; fortunately ‘Sorge infausta’ was delivered at full belt. (I realised at the end of it that I’d been sitting with an idiot grin on my face for the last 5 mins.) Of the other singers, Camilla Tilling (Dorinda) was a show-stealer, Anna Bonitatibus (Medoro) had a lovely voice, and their trio with Rosemary Joshua (Angelica) blended beautifully. (‘Consolati, o bella’ is the best and most memorable bit of music in the whole opera, IMO. Why on earth didn’t Handel include more bits with more than one person singing at a time?)

The production was not brilliant. Most of the set involved a frequently-rotating big merry-go-round split up into several ‘rooms’ with doors in between, for the characters to slam as they constantly chased each other round in circles. Green room, blue room, mirrored room, greenroomblueroommirroredroom… aarghh, making me dizzy. There were also some big spears. And a stuffed sheep. And a pile of books, which, like a well-meaning adult literacy tutor, or perhaps a publisher of self-help books, Zoroastro kept presenting to the other characters at times of emotional crisis. However, I don’t mind abstract sets, and these ones were reasonably pleasant, when not spinning. Costumes were a bit dodgy. The two female characters got off lightly, but Zoroastro had a particularly stupid wig (think mutant Princess Leia look, in frizzy grey), and Orlando wouldn’t have looked out of place sitting on the pavement with a pint of snakebite & black, outside a scuzzy Camden goth club (think black velvet trousers, long black boots, a Matrix-style leather coat and a stringy ponytail). Medoro actually looked rather nice – if you find curvy, pretty women dressed up as men attractive. I was wondering about that, actually, as the costumiers were definitely not trying to make her actually look like a man; if anything, making her female-ness obvious. Maybe it’s like in Tipping the Velvet, where Nan is getting fitted up for her male impersonator’s suit, and she looks too convincing in it, so they have to make it a bit more girly to provoke the appropriate sexually-ambiguous frisson for the audience?

Anyway, in case anyone was getting bored with the main characters running around in circles, throwing plates and books on the floor, and doing a bit of pantomime-style acting once in a while, we were also provided with 3 non-singing dancers who turned up every now and then to mess around with the main characters while they were singing. One was Venus, who was portrayed as a zombie prostitute, I think – deathly white skin with too much dark eye make-up and lipstick, and her boobs hanging out. Her sidekick Cupid looked even more like the walking undead, also deathly pale and with the remnants of his winding-sheet tied round his groin. He didn’t have a bow for his arrows, so went and stuck them in people by hand, twisting them maliciously. Lastly, Mars was poncing around in half a suit of armour over the top of a long red dress.

Funniest moment: Dorinda grabbing Cupid’s last arrow off him and sticking it in his bollocks, while singing about how rubbish love is.

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