What does it take for us to remain positive? The hapless characters of George Frideric Handel and Nicola Francesco Haym’s 1720 opera manage to remain upbeat, despite their lives being besieged by the tyrant ruler, Tiridate. For a wife, an upside to her husband’s infidelity is the realisation that she will love again. From the gallows, a rebel king revels in his resistance. A woman discovers the solution to everyone’s problems and throws herself into a river. In the absurd time of Tiridate, it appears, you’ll take optimism where you can.
Just as positive in outlook is director Wayne Jordan’s production for Northern Ireland Opera, which begins with a static portrait of old characters that are nudged back to life. It seems this dusty work is to be played afresh, with Annemarie Woods’ green and grey designs notably flexible, and Handel’s baroque music nimbly pounced on by conductor John Trophy.
After seizing the city, Tiridate looks to claim his opponent’s daughter, Zenobia, as his new bride. Fleeing with her husband, the rebel Radamisto (a deft Doreen Curran, cast against gender), Zenobia is a dour picture of despair but, with Sinéad Wallace-Campell’s transcending voice, comes into shivering contact with heaven.
We follow Radamisto who, armed with arias about treachery and nobility, changes the hearts and minds of those around him, including the enthusiastic prince Tigrane (a joyous Kate Allen). The greatest transformation, however, belongs to Tiridate’s agonising wife, Polissena (immense soprano Aoife Miskelly), for whom Handel’s music shifts from zaps of harpsichord to warm strings. Stepping into the golden rays of Kevin Treacy’s lighting, she stands to begin anew.
There is something disjointed, though, in Jordan’s playing of this serious opera as closer to comedy, or opera buffa. Ludicrous pageantry, as well as physical quips from a boundless butler (Michael Patrick) who gives us everything from splashes of confetti to push-ups, are fresh touches that grow into strenuous efforts to keep the staging afloat. It comes at the cost of the overall production, which never finds its teeth.
This places more reliance on Richard Burkhard’s fiendish Tiridate to bring some grit to the stage – especially so when the strongest metaphor for devastation the production can offer is found in the toppling of a small model city. If we are to take literally the backing of Woods’ cavernous set – and read that there is light at the end of the tunnel – then Jordan makes that journey all too easy. Handel and Haym’s portrayal of the abuse of power might be a fascinating and relevant work for our own troubling era, but such potential is undone here by the production’s optimism.
Radamisto was on at the O’Reilly Theatre in Dublin. Click here for more details.