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In the person of Madeleine Pierard, Meleagro was revealed as a tall, slightly studious, rather earnest young man. Pierard had the physique du role and made a very convincing studious young man, if not a very macho one. Ruby Hughes' Atalanta was a young back-packer who, we found out later, was bedding down in the local park. Aminta, played by Tyler Clarke, seemed to be a wanna-be musician; he had a guitar and was never seen without his enveloping scarf. It was when we came to Aminta's beloved, Irene, that Cowell's enthusiasm got the better of himself. Stephanie Lewis had to play Irene as a track-suited Vicky Pollard clone (complete with a silent, tracksuited female stooge with a baby in a pram). This might have seemed a good idea, but Lewis' constant mugging soon palled. Before the first act was out we were fed up of Vicky Pollard, and her baleful influence seemed to affect the rest of the production.
Irene is supposed to be an attractive flirt, one of what Winton Dean called Handel's 'sex kitten' roles (such as Cleopatra, Poppea in Agrippina and Teodata in Flavio). Cowell's heavy handed treatment of the character rendered her less attractive and one sided. Lewis was remarkably successful in creating the character during the recitatives and when other people were singing. But her characterisation did not reach her voice when she sang her arias. Lewis's performances were rather too careful and did not achieve the liveliness and vividness of her stage presence.
Vicky Pollard's influence seemed to extend beyond just Irene's character. Cowell used his chorus members to create all sorts of mayhem during the proceedings, with visual jokes about chewing gum and about babies and any number of visual distractions. He seemed to think that most of the arias needed some sort of visual stimulus. Even Meleagro's big aria at the end of Act 1 was not sacred, and Pierard had to sing it whilst a chorus member pretended to clean up and switch off the lights. This was made all the more frustrating because Pierard's performance was superb.
Stephanie Lewis and Ruby Hughes. Photo © 2008 Chris Christodoulou
When Cowell eased up with the visual distractions, things worked better. Pierard and Hughes gave stand out performances in their scenes in Act 2, rendered all the more intense by their very stillness on stage.
Copyright © 26 April 2008
Robert Hugill, London UK