<< -- 2 -- Robert Hugill SIMPLE BUT EFFECTIVE
The opera has only been mounted twice before in the UK, in 1973 and 1998, so it was good to see it, in such a confident and apposite production. But, given that the opera is so rare, I was rather perturbed that the running time seemed to have been edited down to a mere 2 hours 30 minutes (including the interval). This is swift indeed for a Handel opera. The programme book, with its excellent introductory essay by Anthony Hicks, made no mention of exactly what we were hearing and what had been cut. But a number of arias seemed to have been performed shorn of their B section and da capa repeats. I say seemed to have been because this is one of those operas in which Handel plays with the operatic form.
His previous opera, Siroe, had been to a libretto by Metastasio and was very proper and crammed full of da capo arias. Tolomeo uses a number of effects which are based on the expectation of the listener that the aria being sung is a traditional da capo. The most famous is 'Stille Amare' which Tolomeo sings in Act 3 having taken poison. He dies before he can repeat the A section of the aria (except he's not dead, he's just asleep as it was not poison but a sleeping draught -- it's that sort of opera). In Act 2 there is a wonderful sequence where Seleuce, finely sung by Katherine Manley, sings of her love for Tolomeo and how she has searched for him in vain. At the repeat of the da capo, Tolomeo answers Seleuce's phrases turning the aria into a duet. Tolomeo then goes on to sing the aria in almost a repeat with Seleuce singing the answering phrases. Once they have found each other, they are interrupted by Araspe (Kostas Smoriginas, who had a wonderful way with Handel's fioriture). Once imprisoned, Tolomeo and Seleuce sing a ravishing duet, in the expectation of death.
Patricia Orr as Tolomeo had a rather soft grained voice which was ideal for the plangent nature of the role. She rather effectively put over the concerns of a character who spends most of the opera lamenting. The down side was that her voice was less apposite for the faster passagework, but luckily the role does not call for much of this; Tolomeo is the least of heroic of characters.
Alessandro, Tolomeo's brother, is either a rather under-written character or else he suffered more than the others when the opera was pruned for performance. Christopher Ainslie has an attractive soft grained voice and pleasant stage presence which made much of the little he was offered. Having been rescued by his brother at the opening, he spends much of the opera simply interacting passively with the other characters. He falls in love with Elisa, who in turn loves the disguised Tolomeo. Still Alessandro does have the one hit number from the opera, the cavatina 'Non lo diro col labbro' which was arranged by Arthur Somervell as the song Silent Worship. Curiously the cavatina was performed without a following da capo aria.
Copyright © 20 May 2006
Robert Hugill, London UK