Baroque Festival - English Touring Opera
TONY COOPER Snape Maltings
It's one of the most ambitious projects that ETO has undertaken and James Conway, its enterprising artistic director, deserves a medal! For his latest foray into the baroque repertoire - following on from Handel's Ariodante and Alcina, two stunning productions already seen at Snape - he assembled a strong team of singers, musical directors and designers to interpret a trio of important works from opera's early years: Monteverdi's Orfeo (1607), Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (1689) - paired with a rare staging of Carissimi's oratorio, Jephte - and Handel's Tolomeo (1728).
Each singer was kept on their toes appearing in two of the operas while covering a role in another. It was truly an ensemble job and it worked very nicely.
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David Stout was heard to good effect in Jephte - his deep baritone voice breathing fear into his daughter - while in Dido he took the role of Aeneas.
After seeing Tolomeo, it's hard to understand why it's rarely performed nowadays. One of Handel's simplest narratives, it tells of two shipwrecked sons of Cleopatra who play out their mother's ambitions on the island of Cyprus.
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A wonderful piece it has all the usual ingredients of Greek tragedy as well as combining a gentle pastoral and
an intense drama of loss and atonement.
Katherine Manley put in a memorable performance as Seleuce (Tolomeo's lost wife) while Rachel Nicholls (as Elisa) was just fantastic in a role that seemed made for her.
She liked a fight while her brother Araspe, ruler of Cyprus (sung by Andrew Slater) had a fight.
A deep bass-baritone, he brought great drama to his dastardly and assertive role while the two brothers- counter-tenors Jonathan Peter Kenny and Iestyn Morris - put in commanding and telling performances.
ETO is a close-knit unit managed on a fairly-tight budget. What they achieve is a miracle to artistic creation. Their sets are simple (but highly workable for any space) and, in this case, the production was graced with tuneful music as well as puppetry, song and dance and the all-
important crowd-pleaser - audience participation.