Handel – Partenope / Royal Danish Opera 2008 (3)

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There is only one little puzzle that I have yet to work out about this production. The orb. It first appears as a bowling-ball sized golden ball that Partenope’s servant Ormonte hands to Rosmira when she is having misgivings about what she is doing at the end of Act I. (I should say, when at the end of Act I she is having misgivings about what she is doing. The scene does not rise to that level of meta-criticism.) He hands it to her as if she’s supposed to know what to do with it, or as if she ought to expect it. Rosmira takes it, and then gives it back.

He gives it to her again at the end of the opera, at which point she seems fine with it. In this production, Ormonte (Palle Knudson) interacts with the audience. During the overture we see him hold up a sign that says something about how those who have never experienced pain cannot really experience love, and he points to another sign up above that says, according to the subtitles, “this is not a game.” (What it actually says is “ei blot til lyst,” which according to the internet translates as “not just for pleasure.”) When the walls briefly close in on Partenope in Act I, he’s the one who causes it to happen. Ormonte is a sort of meta-character. He pops up in one of the boxes and rappels down to the stage; he picks up Armindo’s notebook, for example, and shows his doodled heart to the audience – and then makes it into a paper airplane. Love is serious, but not serious – or, just because it’s a game doesn’t it mean it’s not serious.

And he hands Rosmira this golden ball, which in the opera’s last scene she accepts. I suppose the idea is that she needs to be whole again, but she can’t be until the end? I’m not sure. But the orb reappears in different guises, and not just for Rosmira. Sometimes it looks like the moon. Sometimes it looks like the moon on fire. It gets bigger. At one point an agitated Arsace pushes it, causing it to swing. You know how in some early modern official records of death, they would list the cause of death as “planet” – i.e. short hand for “the stars were just not aligned for this poor fucker”? (If you don’t believe me, there’s a reference to it in Act 1 scene 1 of Hamlet, a line about how on certain holidays ghosts have to stay in and no planets will strike. Also, if you google “Hamlet planet strike” to find the reference, and you accidentally click on the ‘images’ tab, the first picture is of a rooster. I do not understand the internet sometimes.) The point is, sometimes planets do unexpected and terrifying things. But I don’t think that this is what this one is about. There seems to be a sort of metaphorical connection between completeness and anguish or pain – which of course is precisely what Ormonte was talking about via his signs during the overture.

2 thoughts on “Handel – Partenope / Royal Danish Opera 2008 (3)

  1. Not sure if it’s OK to comment on older posts or if you’ve moved on in life from them, Earworm, but your thoughts about this production inspired me to watch it and the orb conundrum has caused me food for thought, too. So here goes: I think that the orbs, handheld and hanging, are possibly external representations of the inner life of the heart – at least, of Rosmira’s and Partenope’s. I think that Rosmira can’t accept the golden orb which Ormonte tries to press on her because she is still angry and seeking to punish Arsace. i.e. her heart is not in a pure state. Similarly you can see the hanging globe change colour when Partenope touches it and it becomes a mixture of swirling red and blue (this when she is singing Qual farfalletta). I also think that the colour gold has a general symbolic resonance in this production as an indicator of characters’ purity and faithfulness. There are many subtle clues in the colour of the costumes and trimmings for all characters (even Arsace’s horrid gold bow tie – he proves, after all, that he is capable of fidelity). Anyway, such has been my thinking about this Crucial Matter over the past couple of days.


    1. I certainly don’t mind thinking again about things from a while back! Your reading of it sounds entirely reasonable to me, based on my memory of the production. (Maybe one of these days, I’ll end up watching it again; I’ll keep this idea in mind.)


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