You know how it is — you wait ages and then three Baroque operas come along almost together. Handel is hot right now. Oliver Mears’ revival of Agrippina was one of the hits of 2015. Since then Tom Creed has given Acis and Galatea the Glenroe treatment for Opera Theatre Company. Now Northern Ireland Opera have returned to the vaults to dust down another of the Handel’s musical political pot boilers. Here, Radamisto is sung in English and features a feuding family in a story of sex and politics and ultimately redemption. Making his opera debut in this premiere Irish production of the work is the young theatre director Wayne Jordan.
First seen in London in 1720, the work predates his ever popular oratorio Messiah (which had its world premiere in Dublin) by two decades. The plot features a tyrannical Armenian king Tiridate who will stop at nothing to get what he wants even if that happens to be his brother in law’s wife. He wages war on the king of Thrace taking the king’s daughter Zenobia and her husband Radamisto hostage. All’s well in the end. After every character has a big sing, Tiridate repents and everyone lives happily ever after and we get a good old joyful chorus to send us home happy.
Injecting dramatic impetus into a work that is mostly a long series of solo da capo arias is a challenge. Jordan’s approach is to stage it as a shamelessly grandiose puppet show with an actor in modern day formal dress serving as puppeteer controlling the action. Opening with a striking fantasy tableau set against sparse black and white projected image of a cave, Anne Marie Wood’s designs are visually stunning. The lavish costumes are a melange of Renaissance and Elizabethan styles with lots of faux metal.
The Irish Chamber Orchestra under David Brophy played with terrific verve and élan in support of the seven strong cast all who seem very comfortable in their roles. Derry native Doreen Curran sang the title role and it was good to hear another Northern Irish soprano Aoife Miskelly as Polissena. The whole production sat very nicely into the ornate Victorian setting of the Everyman.