Love polygon

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?

1.partenopeIn 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.

2.partenope_arsaceThe 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.

3.battleI’m not going to claim this is Handel’s best opera but it’s quite good fun and this production makes a good case for it.

4.end

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2 thoughts on “Love polygon

  1. Sorry for this comment being a bit long, John, but it’s so nice to be able to discuss this opera/production. I’ve watched it a fair bit, now 😉
    Well-rounded characterisation is a feature of all the parts in this production, isn’t it? My take on Tuva Semmingsen’s portrayal of “Eurimene” is that is Rosmira’s attempt at being manly rather than Semmingsen taking an unconvincing stab at portraying a man. If you see what I mean.
    Apart from the excellent singing, acting and orchestral playing (Concerto Copenhagen are so good!) in this production, I particularly like the subtlety of the costuming (look out for the various shades and touches of gold) and the clues it gives you about the fidelity and heart-state of the characters. This is picked up in the set as well with the gold and changing-colour globes.
    I read somewhere on teh interwebs that almost the entire cast came down with rotten colds during the run of this production (apparently Tuva Semmingsen wasn’t able to sing for 4 performances and you can see that Andreas Scholl looks very poorly in a lot of close-up shots), which would have made the video production extremely challenging. I gather there were problems on some nights with the set machinery breaking down, too. No wonder the video comes across as a bit cobbled together 🙂

    • I’d heard that most of the cast were struggling with colds too but I really didn’t notice it. Compared to, say, James Maddelena on the Met’s “Nixon in China” everyone here sounds OK to me. I really want to watch it again as I’m sure there’s plenty I didn’t see at first watching.

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