Opera Review










Opera in 3 Acts


George Frederick Handel

Director: Christopher Alden

Conductor: Christian Curnyn


London Coliseum


9 October – 12 November, 2008








A review by Barry Grantham for EXTRA! EXTRA!


From the comfort of my seat in the dress circle at the Coliseum, the treatment chosen by the production team did nothing to mar my enjoyment of the ENO’s new Partenope and when the curtain fell, (only a little under four hours later) I did not feel the slightest inclination to join in the isolated booing that mingled with the cheers.  But, after a night’s reflection, I have began to wonder if 1930’s and the surrealist movement typified in the work of Man Ray had the slightest relevance to the 1730’s opera of Mr Handel’s, in whose time a comedy meant one with a happy ending and did not necessarily offer much in the way of laughter. Last night the stage business, and the occasional anachronistic line of recitative (anachronistic for 1930, let alone 1730) in its attempts at comedy, elicited sniggers rather than laughter, and tell me, is Handel’s glorious music really enhanced by the singers being required to give their duet seated on a lavatory seat, as they unroll copious quantities of toilet paper? (The Andrex puppy does it better)   And what did 1918 gasmasks, paparazzi cameras, and some of the odder surrealist images from Man Ray tell us of the love tangles that form the scenario of the original opera, a tale of love, cross dressing, and amatory shenanigans concerning Partenope, the warrior queen, and legendry founder of the city of Naples?




This said, it is possible to look at, and appreciate some of the many assets of which the production can boast; for no particular reason, starting with the sets, the work of Andrew Lieberman, which are clever, serve the director and cast well, and are, at least in the case of the opening salon, all white with its grand twisting staircase, decidedly beautiful. Some of the surrealist images work well in themselves, the home cine-projector throwing abstract images on a white wall, (Man Ray’s own Le Retour a la raison?) the silhouettes of party-makers, and the final build-up of a massive nude photo. The small cast of six, (no chorus of course), are all excellent, vocally and in their acting and movement, (movement director: Claire Glaskin).  I have great admiration for what singers are now prepared to do – there was a time when any demand to do other than stand straight and face front was met with firm refusal. And here’s a funny thing; while the outside world gets fatter and fatter, opera singers seem to be getting thinner and thinner. So, with the wonderful Partenope of Rosemary Joshua, superbly elegant, whether in cocktail dress, silk dressing gown, or man’s top hat, white tie and tails. Patricia Bardon as Rosmira/ Eurimene, spends most of her time en travestie, and makes a great bloke. (Eurimene, I’m told means ‘broad strength’) and when revealed is as pretty as a picture in the latest fashion (1929).    Partenope is full of good tunes and each cast member gets their moments: John Mark Ainsley as Emilio, lestyn Davies as Armindo, Christine Rice, as Arsace, and James Gower as Ormonte. Especially in Acts II & III good tune follows good tune, with great variety of tempo and style. Under the skilful guidance of conductor Christian Curnyn, orchestra and singers give a hell of a good performance.

It is difficult to assess the contribution of the Director Christopher Alden, so alien did I find the concept, though it was undoubtedly competent and his cast were behind him all the way. I would like to say that I am not one of those against change of period and location per se, as you may see from my recent praises for the ENO’s Pagliacci last week.

 I was involved in a production of Partenope by the ‘Midsummer Opera’ a few years ago – We also had the idea of setting it in the 1920’s and, no, that didn’t really work either!  I see there is an advert for three concert performances of Aida by Midsummer Opera – at St John’s Waterloo later in the month.









Set designer: Andrew Lieberman

Costume designer: Jon Morrell

Lighting designer: Adam Silverman


Dates:     Oct 09.7.00pm, Oct 16.7.00pm, Oct 18..7.00pm,  Oct 24..7.00pm
Oct 31.7.00pm Nov 2, 3.00pm (Matinee only) Nov 07. 7.30, Nov 12.7.00pm

Venue:     ENO at the Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4ES

Box Office: 0871 911 0200        www.eno.org

Tickets:  £10 - £80  Ring box office for concessions.




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