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Alexander's minister, Agenor, was sung by Thomas Walker, a very presentable Royal Scottish Academy-trained tenor, with an impressive baritone range in addition. He was Holland Park's Ferrando, was Fenton (a role requiring a very different range and compass) for English Touring Opera's Falstaff, and in the recent Royal Opera House staging of Britten's Owen Wingrave sang Owen's friend, Lechmere. Agenor (or in Italian, Agenore) is in love with Tamiri (mezzo Natasha Jouhl, who recently added to her Glyndebourne and Wexford credentials the US premiere in Chicago of John Adams' The Flowering Tree). Due to the opera's political machinations the two find their love-match similarly threatened, when Alexander proposes to marry off Tamiri, daughter to Sidon's deposed ex-tyrant, to Aminta. Thus the gaffe-prone monarch engenders four human disasters at one fell swoop, by a single decision that threatens to wreck both sets of lovers' plans. Something has to give; and it is Alexander's final climb-down that yields Il re pastore its happy conclusion.

Cora Burggraaf (Aminta) and Thomas Walker (Agenore). Photo © 2007 Johan Persson
Cora Burggraaf (Aminta) and Thomas Walker (Agenore). Photo © 2007 Johan Persson

Mozart duly jumps through the hoops, supplying oodles of fluent recitative to dispose of Metastasio's extensive text. But it is in the arias especially that we get a whiff of the greatness to come. In an early aria for Elisa, Lucy Crowe instantly displayed those appealing qualities that made her the outstanding figure in this agreeable and often funny, if low-key, staging by Annilese Miskimmon.

Perhaps as striking as Crowe's tone and diction was the massive gold arrow behind her -- maybe twenty or twenty-five feet high -- which designer Dick Bird had 'fired' into the Garsington loggia from above. It was a clever idea, for it seemed to symbolise love, war, earthly power, divine authority, but perhaps above all, broken hearts. It was also the strongest indication of a seriousness and dignity of intent in the story which, frankly, Miskimmon's staging (unlike New Kent Opera's) either failed to unearth or preferred to ignore.

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Copyright © 15 July 2007 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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