Handel’s Partenope is a bit unusual. It feels lighter than a lot of Handel’s Italian operas and it is basically a romcom, albeit one that still has a vaguely classical setting. Handel also plays with opera seria conventions by, for example, writing “heroic” arias for non-heroic texts and putting accompagnato in odd places. The number of potential match ups that need to be tracked is fairly staggering. Basically everybody is in love with, or pretending to be in love with, Partenope, queen of Partenope aka Naples. These include the invading prince of Cumae, Emilio; Arsace, prince of Corinth; Armindo, prince of Rhodes and Eurimene, an Armenia who is really Rosmira, princess of Cypress and formerly betrothed to Arsace. The only character who isn’t in love with Partenope is the philosophical captain of the guard, Ormonte, who is easy to spot as he’s a bass. At the start of the piece Partenope is in love with Arsace but Eurimene/Rosmira isn’t having that and engineers a duel with Arsace. This takes most of two acts but it’s the only essential bit of plot. In Act 3 Arsace, who really doesn’t want to fight his former fiancée finally comes up with the wizard wheeze of demanding that the duel be fought bare chested. Apparently this was perfectly normal under Neopolitan duelling conventions. maybe it’s what gave Patrick O’Brian the idea of having Stephen Maturin always duel bare chested? Anyway the modest Rosmira isn’t about to do any boob flashing (somewhat ironically as Inger Dam-Jensen, in the title role, has been bosom heaving with the best since the overture) so confesses to being, shock horror, female. Arsace and Rosmira are reunited and Partenope awards herself as a consolation prize to Armindo. Got that?
In his 2008 production at Royal Danish Opera, director Francisco Negrin builds on Handel’s subverting of opera seria conventions. It’s quite busy with singers often being on stage when they are not singing. There’s lots of business. The big battle between Cumae and Partenope is played out as musical chairs and rock/paper/scissors. Ormonte sings a very philosophical area from an orchestra box then rappels down onto the stage. All of this takes place with quite simple sets and, more or less, in modern dress. The acting is first rate and the singing is good too. Inger Dam-Jensen is a fine, convincing Partenope (and she is well equipped for the amount of bosom heaving required). Andreas Scholl and Christophe Dumaux make a pleasingly contrasting pair of countertenor suitors as Arsace and Armindo. Tuva Semmingsen is a rather feminine looking Eurimene despite the extremely unconvincing fake moustache but she sings well and looks very cute at the end minus the ‘tache. Bo Kristian Jensen is suitably thuggish as Emilio and Palle Knudsen is a solid Ormonte and very funny in a deadpan sort of way. Lars Ulrik Mortensen has the Concerto Copenhagen in the pit and they sound very suitably Handelian. It’s good stuff and I need to watch again with a better idea of what’s happening so I can focus more on the singing.
The video direction is by Uffe Borgwardt. If you have seen other work by him you will know what to expect. It’s very busy with lots of face shots. So, not entirely to my taste! The picture and DTS sound (there’s LPCM stereo as an option) are both good for DVD. There’s no Blu-ray of this. There’s some decent bonus material with footage of rehearsals and Scholl interviewing various members of the cast and creative team. The documentation is also pretty good with a full track listing, synopsis and an essay by Mary Beard. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Danish.