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Gripping theatre

ROBERT HUGILL experiences Zurich Opera's 'Radamisto'


Handel's Radamisto is unusual in a couple of ways. Firstly, it is one of his few operas where a later revision to the opera has almost the same importance as the original. Usually with Handel later revisions represent a falling off of artistic integrity. But after its first performance in 1720, Handel re-worked the opera for a new cast, giving us two pretty strong versions of the same opera. One of the revisions he introduced was a quartet for the four principal characters. This movement, unique in Handelian opera seria, possesses all the qualities that we associate with vocal ensembles in later opera -- proving that Handel could write such movements but seems to have chosen not to.

On Monday 22 March 2004, Zurich Opera chose its new production of Radamisto to form the first of its two showcases at the Royal Festival Hall in London. This production was unveiled in Zurich on 14 March conducted by William Christie and directed by Claus Gut. The performance in London was billed as a concert performance. But the orchestra, Zurich Opera's own baroque band La Scintilla, was placed well back on the stage giving a generous staging area. The cast all sang without scores and gave us a fully moving, fully acted performance. A glance at the Zurich Opera web site shows that the production is not a traditional one. So it was not surprising if the cast's movements sometimes came over as puzzling shadows of the stage production rather than a helpful semi-staging.

Neither the producer nor the designer were credited in the programme, but the cast seemed to be wearing costumes from the Zurich production. Helpfully all the male characters (here all played by women) were in trousers and only the two female characters wore glamorous frocks.

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Copyright © 28 March 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK


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