The first thing you see before the curtains open or the orchestra starts up, is what looks like half a very large pink wrapped present jutting out on the left hand side of the stage. Soon this has become an entire set, symbolising turrets, Hades pit, the desert and dungeons, all with only a few small shifts and rotations, carried out by the “actors” , who can often be seen walking across the stage as guards, prisoners or peasants.

Recently I have seen many productions of west end musicals, so I thought I knew what to expect but some aspects of the opera did surprise me. The singers and orchestra were not amplified, just as you would expect, and it is amazing how each voice projected so well and filled the impressive sized theatre. They didn’t have too much to compete with as the opera used only a smaller, baroque orchestra with very little brass, although when they did get a moment it added such an amazing colour to the sound that you could not forget they were there.

This production uses an English translation libretto. It was originally written in Italian, as suggested by the names: Radamisto, Zenobia, Tiridate, which all sound fantastic said in a “When'sa your Dolmio day” Italian accent. This made the show accessible, and much more of an experience. It was so easy to follow the plot, also helped by melodramatic stage acting and Handel’s continuous repetition of words. At many points he seemed to spin a whole aria out of just two or three lines of text, leaving the operator of the subtitles machine largely out of a job!

After reading the introduction and synopsis from Kobbe's opera book, I was expecting 3 counter tenors to sing those parts originally written for castrati males. However since it had been written one of these parts has been cut, and in this production a second was played by a female soprano. I think this gave the cast a much more natural balance, and you could fully appreciate the distinct sound of Lawrence Zazzo as Radamisto. My only complaint about any of the scoring, was that Radamisto and Zenobia both sang with the same range, so it was hard to see them as a couple, and him as a warrior and ruler, she almost sounded like the dominant of the two.

I think it is fair to say that for me one member of the cast really stood out; Christine Rice as Zenobia, Radamisto’s rather dramatic wife, with a hint of the manic-depressive. She seemed to die continuously, but thanks to many twists and turns in the plot, kept coming back and made it all the way to the finale, (the closest there was to a chorus,) when all of the 6 characters ended up on stage at once, and sang a sextet.

Highly recommended.

Clare saw Radamisto at the English National Opera on 22nd October 2010.

Clare Smedley, age 17

credit: Clive Barda