Opportunities to see this entry in Handel’s sub-category of ‘magic’ operas, one he composed after Rinaldo but well before Alcina, have been bafflingly rare in my operagoing lifetime. It is musically ravishing, scenically straightforward and its cast of four (five for a few minutes late on) make it one of the most economical full-length operas in the catalogue. Happily, other eyes have spotted its potential and English Touring Opera is now touring the year’s second UK production. There is also a new Chandos recording in the works.

William Towers (Amadigi) and Harriet Eyley (Oriana)
© Richard Hubert Smith

Delight at Amadigi’s inclusion on Garsington Opera’s slate for 2021 was mitigated by a production that favoured style over substance and failed to notice that the opera is both entertaining and emotionally human. Musically it was radiant; visually it emitted a baleful glare. Happily, ETO’s new staging by James Conway offers the ideal corrective to that summer disappointment: it sizzles with energy, fizzes with musical delight and rejoices in an understated sense of fun. Conway gives the work’s incongruities free rein and defies the audience not to chuckle.

The plot is simple – sorceress Melissa and the scheming Dardano join forces to upend the love of Amadigi for Oriana, before good triumphs in the end – but it’s sufficient to accommodate an evening of happy stagecraft and ecstatic arias, as Conway and ETO’s regular Baroque maestro, Jonathan Peter Kenny, demonstrate in their joyous new production. Not even Conway’s sore thumbs (something of a trademark for this director; here his handsome staging includes a perplexing side order of football badges and scarves) detract from the sheer pleasure of Neil Irish’s multi-functional set, Rory Beaton’s rich, evocative lighting and the splendid though oddly uncredited video contributions of Harry Pizzey.

Francesca Chiejina (Melissa) and William Towers (Amadigi)
© Richard Hubert Smith

Kenny, in his former life as a countertenor, was the veteran of several productions of Amadigi and his love of the score shone through on opening night as he coaxed fluent, finely shaded playing from ETO’s resident Old Street Band. The 24-strong period orchestra has never sounded better. He shaped the score lovingly and supported his singers with unfailing security, none more acutely the stellar pair of Francesca Chiejina (Melissa) and Harriet Eyley (Oriana) in their fiery Act 2 duo, a world class highlight of a musically gripping evening. In the title role, countertenor William Towers gave a performance of physical charisma and vocal charm but he needed more punch than his falsetto could pack at forceful moments such as Amadigi’s bewitched castigation of Oriana. Rebecca Afonwy-Jones as the spurned Dardano was saddled with an unbecoming costume but sang and acted with dignity and conviction, while young Zechariah King, the first of many one-time-only children scheduled to sing the sorcerer Orgando during the tour, revelled in his brief but telling appearance.

Rebecca Afonwy-Jones (Dardano) and William Towers (Amadigi)
© Richard Hubert Smith

ETO has book-ended this wretched pandemic with two excellent Handel productions. The company's Giulio Cesare was the last show I saw before lockdown; now let us hope that Amadigi marks the start of a new constancy for all of us. As it wends its way round Britain to no fewer than 12 venues (some of them to feature Tim Morgan as Amadigi and Jenny Stafford as Melissa) it deserves to garner sizeable audiences hither and yon.