An uneven presentation of Handel’s Partenope at the Teatro Real

United StatesUnited States Handel, Partenope: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Real / Ivor Bolton (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid, 15 & 16.11.2021. (JMI)

Handel’s Partenope at Teatro Real © J. del Real

Director – Christopher Alden
Sets – Andrew Lieberman
Costumes – Jon Morrell
Lighting – Adam Silverman

Partenope – Brenda Rae/Sabina Puértolas
Arsace – Iestyn Davies/Franco Fagioli
Rosmira – Teresa Iervolino/Daniela Mack
Armindo – Anthony Roth Costanzo/Christopher Lowrey
Emilio – Jeremy Ovenden/Juan Sancho
Ormonte – Nikolay Borchev/Gabriel Bermúdez

It has been four years since a Handel opera – Rodelinda – was last staged at the Teatro Real. Agrippina was done here in 2019, but in a concert version.

Christopher Alden created this Partenope for London’s ENO in 2008, in a co-production with San Francisco Opera and Opera Australia. The production focuses on the comic aspects of the work, and the stage direction is very good, trying (though not always succeeding) to give life to a plot where very little happens. The action takes place in the 1920s in an elegant house where Partenope and her suitors can be found. The sets and costumes are attractive, and the lighting is superb.

The musical direction was entrusted to Ivor Bolton, of whose conducting I had very high expectations, but they were only partially fulfilled. I was disappointed in his somewhat monotonous reading of Act I, where nuances were missed. Things got better in the next two acts, although it takes a masterful conductor to bring this opera to life. The excellent Orchestra of Teatro Real does better in other types of music than they do with Baroque scores.

In the first cast, the role of Partenope, the Queen of ancient Naples, was sung by Brenda Rae, a light soprano with an appealing voice and a fine stage presence. She shines in the upper part of the tessitura and has no problems with the coloratura, but I find she falls short in the low notes, which have difficulty reaching the audience. Soprano Sabina Puértolas played Partenope in the second cast, and she was excellent. She gave one of the best performances that I remember from her: a lively and credible stage presence and a voice with a remarkable homogeneity of registers.

Arsace was sung by countertenor Iestyn Davies, whose performance improved as the opera went on. He was not particularly notable in the first act, but there is no doubt that he triumphed in his great scene at the end of Act II and in his important aria in the third act. The second Arsace was Franco Fagioli, who is undoubtedly one of the leading singers in his range, and he shone especially in the florid singing. Fagioli was impressive in the expected moments of the last two acts, although I found Iestyn Davies’s performance the day before was more exciting.

Rosmira or the false Eurimene was performed by mezzo-soprano Teresa Iervolino, who has a well-managed voice, although she is not an exceptional singer. In the second cast, mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack was Rosmira, and I expected more from her after having seen her on a few occasions in the past. Her voice also had some difficulty getting off the stage.

Another countertenor, Anthony Roth Costanzo as Armindo, was outstanding, singing with gusto and offering a display of physical agility throughout the performance and it was crowned with a brilliant rendition of his Act III aria. Countertenor Christopher Lowery had the great handicap of having to fight with my memory of Anthony Roth Costanzo’s triumph the day before. I found him less impressive in stage terms and also vocally, in particular in the upper part of the tessitura.

Tenor Jeremy Ovenden gave life to Emilio, he is a fine singer, but his voice narrows the higher it gets. Juan Sancho in the second cast was good too, but his voice also narrows quite a bit for his highest notes. Finally, the minor part of Ormonte was played correctly by baritones Nikolay Borchev and Gabriel Bermúdez.

J. M. Irurzun

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