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For most of the opera Alessandro thinks that Poro's general Gandarte (Andrew Pickett, counter-tenor) is Poro -- they swapped identities after the battle. Throw into the mix Poro's sister Erissena (Madeleine Pickard, mezzo-soprano) and Alessandro's general Timagene (Håkon Ekenäs, bass), who is secretly scheming against Alessandro and you can glean the complexity of the situation.

As set by Handel, the plot has huge holes, but you realise that he did not care about this. His music is wholely focussed on the love triangle between Poro, Cleofide and Alessandro.

Poro and Cleofide spend the entire opera falling in and out of love, his uncontrolled jealousy and her desire to win over Alessandro keep coming between them. In Act 1, each has an aria in which they swear to be faithful but by the end of the act they have failed and Act 1 closes with a remarkable duet, in which each ironically quotes the other's original aria. The text by Metastasio is remarkably bitter and Handel does it justice, creating a duet where the two vocal lines are not in total consonance, something of a rarity for him.

Christopher Ainslie has a somewhat soft-grained voice. It was not at its best in the moments when Poro is called upon to be virile and martial, but these are few. Ainslie beautifully caught Poro's strong feeling for Cleofide and the jealous nature of his character.

Ruby Hughes as Cleofide in Handel's 'Poro'. Photo © 2007 Chris Christodoulou
Ruby Hughes as Cleofide in Handel's 'Poro'. Photo © 2007 Chris Christodoulou

Poro could easily be annoying but Ainslie made him sympathetic. It helped that he seemed to have a strong rapport with Hughes, singing Cleofide, so that their scenes were believable. Hughes has quite a rich voice, but one that negotiates Handel's vocal lines with ease. Her Cleofide was a tour-de-force, combining drama with profound feeling.

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Copyright © 25 March 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK


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