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The second couple, Clizia and Arcane, are also in love, but tormented with jealousy. Unfortunately Withers was a little stiff as Clizia and Markeby's jealousy was relatively unconvincing. This meant that, despite some fine musicianship and musical performances, their scenes were limited in impact. It was only when the characters relaxed that the singers delivered outstanding performances, with Markby giving a stand-out performance of Arcane's final aria.

Markeby, like Kumar, created a convincing masculine persona. Perhaps she looked a little young, but she was believable and made a good foil for Withers' Clizia.

Medea can easily be portrayed as a harridan in this opera, but Bern and Conway, thanks to a careful reading of the libretto, made Medea a woman who is frustrated in love. Her spat with Jason is behind her and she relinquishes Egeo because she does not love him. She loves Teseo and her anger at Agilea is aimed at persuading her to relinquish him.

At the end of Act 3 Medea vents her anger on Agilea by turning the place into a desert. Wiltshire and Conway had to make do with lighting and smoke, plus the reactions of the singers. This just about worked. But Handel's music at this point was superb and was so capably delivered by Bern that you forgave the staging its limitations.

Jeni Bern as Medea in English Touring Opera's 'Teseo'
Jeni Bern as Medea in English Touring Opera's 'Teseo'

Bern's was a very human and very believably sexy Medea, but all this integrated into a strong delivery of Handel's virtuoso vocal lines. In Act 4 we got a major coup de théâtre: the screen was turned around to reveal Medea's very seventeenth century looking workshop with the bodies of Agilea and Teseo frozen. This setting worked very well both in terms of the visual interest and in giving us realistic back-filling in terms of Medea's sorcerous background.

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Copyright © 1 November 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK


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