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SEEN AND HEARD  INTERNATIONAL OPERA  REVIEW
 

Handel, Tolomeo, Re di Egitto:  Soloists, Orchestra Collegium Marianum Prague. Conductor: Carlos Aragón. Teatro Arriaga de Bilbao. 19.10.2008. (JMI)

New Production.

Direction: Curro Carreres.
Sets and Costumes: Juan Sebastián Domínguez.
Lighting: Eduardo Bravo.

Cast:

Tolomeo: Flavio Oliver.
Seleuce: Maria Grazia Schiavo.
Elisa:  Soledad Cardoso.
Alessandro: Filippo Mineccia.
Araspe: Iván García.



Picture © E. Moreno Esquibel

Teatro Arriaga continues to program baroque operas, by  offering this  performance of Handel’s Tolomeo, King of Egypt. This is the last opera that Handel wrote for the Royal Academy, having been premiered in London in 1728, with two later revisions, both of which  were incorporated into the for this performance.

It seems to be a new fashion,  this recovery of forgotten baroque operas, and this year seems to be a  Tolomeo year: it  will be also offered in concert at Madrid Teatro Real in a few months, in a tour by Alan Curtis and his Complesso Barroco. This Bilbao Tolomeo was  a separate staged performance of Tolomeo and the first ever in Spain, where it has arrived after  a delay of almost 300 years.

More than one aficionado  might  think that the Tolomeo is no other than the brother and husband of queen Cleopatra, as is shown in the opera Giulio Cesare.  This is not him however, but a son of Cleopatra, although he was never king of Egypt in reality. At the  death of the Caesar and Marc Antonio, Cleopatra‘s “Roman” children were taken to away to Rome. Of the  other three children, Cleopatra Selene married the  King of Mauritania, after which her brothers Tolomeo and Alessandro,  the protagonists in  this opera, apparently also decided to go to Mauritania to live with their sister. A new Tolomeo, son of Cleopatra Selene, succeeded his mother to the throne of Mauritania until Caligula decided to end his life.

So this  Tolomeo is not based in historical grounds: instead it  is just the excuse for a complicated and unbelievable love story, with beautiful music here and there, although not at the height of the other great masterpieces by the composer.  It served as a vehicle for the famous castrato Senesino, who sang the first Tolomeo.

This new production of Curro Carreres is simple and effective with doses of action and good taste and without any particularly original dramatic concepts behind it. It has very simple sets, consisting of a cyclorama at the back of the stage and with  some elements of  atrezzo. The costumes are rather confusing, since they come from  different periods. On the one hand, Tolomeo and his beloved Seleuce are dressed by  characters from ancient time, Araspe, the king of Cyprus, looks more like an African while Alessandro, Tolomeo’s brother, wears modern army uniform, and is always followed around by soldiers with machine guns. The truth is though, that the opera’s plot  is so weak that these time confusion have no real importance. I am becoming so used to these rarities in concert version however that I appreciate any effort in the theatre and while  the production serves the opera very effectively, it does offers nothing outstanding. There was particularly good lighting by Eduardo Bravo, as is more than usual from him.

Carlos Aragón is not a very well-known conductor. Until now his work  has consisted of being assistant of high profile Maestros and he came as a pleasant surprise in the role of  musical director has been a without any hint at all of his possible inexperience. On the contrary, he was always in full control of the opera, in a very lively and very convincing reading from Prague’s  Collegium Marianum. In short, this was a sparkling musical performance.

Countertenor Flavio Oliver was Tolomeo and he also offered a bright interpretation of the title role. He is a remarkable singer who looks good on stage.  His best  moment was the aria during  his death by poison -  which later turn  out to be only  a narcotic to ensure a happy ending.

Neapolitan Maria Grazia Schiavo was the best singer in the cast. She has a pleasant voice which is  very expressive and has a shining coloratura. She confirmed the most positive impression she left a few months ago in both Madrid and Valencia. Soledad Cardoso was an Elisa poorly suited to the demands of the character. Bad girls  require more vocal weight than she has and it . seems that she is not quite mature enough yet. Another countertenor, Italian Filippo Mineccia, was Alessandro and passed by  without either pain or glory. Venezuelan Iván Garcia seemed a very strange choice for  this kind of music, more Amonasro or Jack Rance than a baroque bass baritone.

Teatro Arriaga had an unusualfull house for the performance. The audience was very receptive and warm towards all the artists, particularly with  Schiavo, Oliver and Carlos Aragón.

Jose M Irurzun



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