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By Act 2, Poro and Cleofide have made up and have a ravishing duet. But by Act 3, Cleofide thinks Poro is dead and tries to commit suttee. Poro stops here at the last moment and the opera concludes with another duet which develops into the final coro.
It is difficult to really believe Poro's antipathy for Alessandro because Alessandro is so invariably nice. His character in the opera did not seem to engage Handel. Also, having to cast a tenor in the role must have been awkward -- tenors were rarely if ever lovers. Alessandro does get a love scene with Cleofide -- a tenor/soprano love scene being rare in Handel, but she does not respond. Handel's arias for Alessandro are magnificent but don't always seem to engage with the plot. This did not matter as Nathan Vale sang them so magnificently. Vale won last year's Handel Singing Competition at the festival and is quite a find. His mobile tenor was virile but found its way around Handel's vocal lines in a very expressive way. I do hope to hear him as Bajazet (in Tamerlano) before his voice gets too heavy. Vale's sheer performance balanced Handel's lack of engagement and the love triangle worked very well.
As the secondary lovers, Pickett and Pierard had little in the way of genuine plot function. But they created a believable relationship with Pierard's Erissena asserting her right to be flirtatious and inconstant whilst Picket's Gandarte wanted constancy.
Pierard has a lovely, dark voice and was a joy to listen to. Her simile aria, 'son confusa pastorella', was so superb that you forgave the fact that it does nothing for the plot or character. Poro gets a similar type of aria, again of such musical strength that cutting it is not an option.
Christopher Cowell's production, in designs by Bridget Kinnock, set the opera in India in the 18th century. The Greeks were dressed as English, Alexander in a red coat and powdered wig, the Indians in colourful Indian dress. The designer had obviously had a wonderful time in Southall buying glorious Indian fabric.
Copyright © 25 March 2007
Robert Hugill, London UK