<< -- 2 -- Robert Hugill TRAGIC SCENES
Guido and Emilia have the serious arias in the opera, the roles were after all written for two of the finest singers of the day, Senesino and Francesca Cuzzoni. Early Opera Company was lucky that Wallace and Booth proved more than equal to the challenge; both displayed the enviable ability to rise above the virtuosity of Handel's music and use it for expressive, dramatic purpose.
In Act 2, when Emilia discovers that Guido has killed her father, she has a moving aria Ma chi punir desio and Booth was simply stunning in this aria, helped by producer Netia Jones who kept the staging to a minimum. In Act 3 when Guido and Emilia meet, he urges her to kill him in a remarkable sequence of secco recitative, accompanied recitative and arioso. Emilia cannot, and the scene culminates in a moving aria for Guido, Amor, ne mio penar. Both Booth and Wallace were on top form in these scenes and Wallace was profoundly moving in the aria.
Linking the two plots is the figure of the King, who must resolve the problems between Emilia, Guido and Ugone, but who spends most of the opera as an indolent figure, amusedly pursuing Teodata. Handel gives him mainly love songs to dance rhythms as arias. It is only at the very end that he finds the dignity to become a real monarch.
But this amused, ironic tone makes life difficult for the producer to get the tone of the opera right. Netia Jones's production tried rather too hard to be ironic, amusing and clever, but had the virtues that she did not shirk the more serious moments. The stage was populated with just a desk, a chair and a wooden Wendy house. Behind it were two screens which constantly played video projections. These commented on the action or set the scene. At times this was effective, usually when the images were abstract, but the actors themselves appeared in the videos. After their betrothal Guido and Emilia each have arias looking forward to their future; neither aria is really showy and Jones chose to illustrate them with scenes of the two singers acting out their future. This meant that the singers had to compete with larger images of themselves. That they managed to says much for the artistry of Booth and Wallace.
More problematically, during Vitige's jealousy aria in Act 3, Sirti, scoglio, tempeste, we were presented with comic images of Teodata and Flavio cavorting together. Whilst this might be a genuine attempt to illuminate Vitige's thoughts, it does rather sabotage Vitige's aria. This is the first time that the plot involving Vitige and Teodata approaches seriousness and King handled the aria well, despite the distractions.
Copyright © 8 July 2005
Robert Hugill, London UK