This glorious production of Handel’s Amadigi is both a splendid, spirits (literally) raising experience and why our independent festivals are the shining stars of opera as they have struggled and overcome Covid restrictions.
While most of our state funded opera houses and arts companies remained the domain of tumbleweed, Garsington and others have kept opera alive and, from a Welsh perspective, vitally provided work for our singers where it has failed them in Wales.
So the beautifully voiced former ENO Harwood Artist Welsh soprano Rhian Lois (below) has the opportunity to delight us with a meticulously acted and sung Oriana in a clean, modern and intelligent production of the 1715 Handel opera. Rhian’s star is in the ascendency with work not only in the opera houses but a favourite of the increasingly important festivals. This was a perfect Garsington debut role for the versatile singer who gives us, yes, the pure princess but a woman with a glint in her eye and a few cheeky (if not racy) movements showing she is not a one dimensional innocent.
The story is baroque and Classical jolly nonsense with a message for all times of love and fidelity over envy, bitterness and revenge. Here Amadigi (a Handel trouser role) loves Oriana, but evil sorceress Melissa wants Amadigi while duplicitous Dardano wants Oriana.
Netia Jones does not try to bring vast amounts of theatrical wizardry to the production and instead uses projected imagery onto the stage which is sparsely populated by a large orange egg, a black horse and at times a cage for Oriana. The stage is measured out in letters and numbers (imagine the edges of a large game of Battleships) with the word AMADIGI in large letters of different fonts.
Cleverly used rectangular towers , some with ladders and opening apertures (and apertures also open and close in the floor) are moved around the stage by excellent dancers who wear hugging body suits in contrasting back and orange. They are Melissa’s Furies and one wonderfully Anna Morrisey choreographed having thrown around the set as if by invisible cords by the sorceress and a similar device is used when she tortures Amadigi.
A fabulous sung and acted Melissa from soprano Anna Devin (above) has her most of the time an in control femme fatale, elegant beauty, and when defeated she takes off her wig and becomes more of a dishevelled Catherine Tate lookalike. Her co-conspirator is a fresh voiced counter tenor Tim Mead who looks more a chain smoking, High Priest than prince.
The contrast of voices is exquisite with an intoxicating mezzo from Sonja Runge in the title role (below with Tim Mead), always measured, calm and, fortunately for this show, physically as well as vocally lithe; a winning combination of some heart-wrenching singing and elegant acting.
The English Concert under Christian Curnyn is the hero of the evening and we can hope that with such a successful production with this excellent cast hope Amadigi returns to the more frequently performed repertoire.
More tickets have been released – book quickly.
Main image: Sonja Runge and Rhian Lois. Image: Julian Guidera.