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For a producer, the opera presents a number of problems. First, they must find a suitable setting which does justice to the pastoral setting of the original. Second, they must include the hunting of the Calydonian boar; this is important as it establishes Atalanta's tom-boyishness, her retreat from the girlishness that would be required of her if she lived at home. Finally, there is Handel's long, celebratory finale which works well if accompanied by fireworks, but can seem thin if left on its own in the theatre.

For their new production at the Britten Theatre in the Royal College of Music in collaboration with the Benjamin Britten International Opera School, the London Handel Festival chose Christopher Cowell (whose production of the festival production of Poro was such a success) as director.

Cowell had the clever idea to set the piece amongst a group of dissolute and disaffected youths who loiter around the sea front in a seaside town like Brighton. The hunt was replaced by a macho arcade game, which gave him opportunity to display Atalanta in tomboy mode. For the celebratory finale, Mercury becomes a TV personality celebrating the wedding of Atalanta and Meleagro, now restored to the princely positions, and the chorus supplying all manner of hilarious TV hangers on.

So far, so good -- Cowell's basic premises worked well and with a young and enthusiastic cast, all would seem set for a promising performance. We were introduced to the cast before the overture had finished, as the curtain went up on them loitering on the beach, each chorus member delineated quite carefully from a repertoire of stereotypes.

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Copyright © 26 April 2008 Robert Hugill, London UK


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