Handel – Partenope / Royal Danish Opera 2008 (2)

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Two things stood out to me about this performance. First of all, the production strikes what I would call an excellent balance between visuals and music – it’s interesting, but it’s never distracting (well, except for when two of the walls start closing in on Partenope in Act I as her servant Ormonte suggests that Emilio’s visit may not be about war alone; the sudden inward movement of the walls and Partenope’s startled look reminded me of nothing so much as the first Star Wars movie when they get stuck in the Death Star’s trash compactor. But this is one of those things that is more of an Earworm problem than a Danish National Opera problem.)

Second, the evening wear and the party games ‘battle’ do not take away from the emotional weight of the opera itself. This is a performance where the characters seem to leap out very sharply. Or at least most of them do. Rosmira and Arsace’s fights and her mixture of bravado and uncertainty, Arsace’s weakness and growing awareness that he has been kind of a tool, Armindo’s continued hesitation and eventual relief when he gets his confession off his chest – these feel very natural. The performers have some lovely music at their disposal, and they bring it to life. Here is Semmingsen singing “Arsace, O dio!” from Act III. I particularly like the way Semmingsen’s voice meshes with the strings here. She is a pleasure to hear in this opera the whole way through – I fully intend to see if I can find some more things she’s in.

Other high points include Arsace’s “Ch’io parta? Si, crudele,” and Armindo’s “Non chiedo, o luci vaghe.” The countertenors are to a man having a good night (or nights, given that this is a DVD). Armindo and Partenope’s “per le porte del tormento” in the final scene was also really lovely. (And the people making the booklet inform us that it – the duet – was imported from Sosarme, which is nice because that means we don’t have to sit there for fifteen minutes chewing on ice cubes and thinking “where. the fuck. have I heard that before?”)

And it’s not just the vocalists, it’s the orchestral playing too – the Concerto Copenhagen produces a really vivid, expressive sound all the way through, and the interactions between the musicians and the singers are utterly terrific. My notebook is full of references to the lute, both as a continuo instrument during the recitatives and also meshed with other sounds during various arias, and the harpsichord, which I believe the conductor, Lars Ulrik Mortensen, plays. Also the flute, which pops up several times. Point is, the orchestral playing here is thoughtful and expressive and really fun to listen to.

There is only one little puzzle about this production that I have yet to work out.

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