<< -- 3 -- Robert Hugill TRAGIC SCENES
Jones makes Flavio's unheroic nature explicit by having him spend most of the opera playing with children's toys, eating jelly beans and retreating into the Wendy House in times of stress. He makes his entrance wearing a fat suit and a giant head, like an animated garden gnome. Only for the final scene does he dress in a suit and find suitable gravitas. It says much for Andrew Radley that he managed to overcome these obstacles and create a believable character. Like Wallace, Radley's counter tenor is soft-grained which suited admirably the character and his music.
Dressing up was another feature of the production. For their opening scene King and Woodhouse were dressed up in 18th century costume which they quickly shed to consummate their love (this consummation is important for the plot, though in Handel's day it was merely suggested by Vitige climbing out of Teodata's window late at night). Then, in addition to Flavio's incarnation as a garden gnome, Guido dresses up for his wedding in a remarkable, unscottish kilt. It says much for Wallace's aplomb that he could essay Guido's nobly tragic scenes wearing this bizarre garment.
Latvian bass Pauls Punins blustered suitably as Lotario but Joseph Cornwell, who should have sung Ugone, was absent due to a bereavement. In his stead the role was acted by a stand-in, with another musician singing from the orchestra; a valiant solution to the problem and a solution which worked remarkably well in the circumstances.
Curnyn and his small band played from the side of the stage. Curnyn has a sure touch with this music and the band played with crisp style, accompanying the singers well and providing a virtuoso touch where needed. The small band of strings made a remarkably rich noise. The communication between band and singers seemed almost unnaturally close given the difficult sight lines and there were only two occasions when 'pit' and stage were not quite together, a notable achievement.
Flavio was not a notable success in Handel's day. So if his own audiences were unable to appreciate the delicate irony of the work, how much more difficult in our day when we are less familiar with the nature of opera seria. Whilst Netia Jones's production adopted too jokey a tone for my taste, she rarely sacrificed Handel's music for the sake of a good joke. Even in the jokier moments, she ensured that we cared about the characters. It can kill this type of opera stone dead if we fail to appreciate the characters as rounded human beings, and thanks to Jones and to her talented band of singing actors, we really did care about these people. It helped that under Curnyn's confident direction the singers rose brilliantly to the challenge of Handel's music to give us a stunningly sung and acted evening. A welcome outing indeed for one of Handel's problem children.