Peaks and Districts: ETO in Buxton

Händel’s Radamisto, his first opera written for the English audience, performed in its second version in Buxton tonight is the main production of English Touring Opera‘s autumn baroque season. Baroque opera, so one expects a plot full of intrigue, love polygons, treason, and less excitingly: fidelity, virtue and honour. There is no disappointment on this front: James Conway directed a moving drama where, although one expect a happy ending, it is often quite hard to imagine how life-threatening tensions can be reconciled. The 6 singers (some minor roles were merged) do an excellent job, most of them not only muscially but theatrically as well, and this is no small feat, because apart from some extreme emotions, there are some tricky acrobatics to accomplish. At some point in the original second act (towards the end of the first half in this prodction), Radamisto and Zenobia, Armenian prince and princess escape into the hills, then she jumps off a mountain to commit suicide…

Then the next morning, Lord Henry meets her in a Starbucks at Stockport train station, congratulates her to the brilliant performance and it turns out that both are about to take the next train to London – this is, as they say nowadays: “priceless”. This is, of course, what happened off-stage. On stage, in dramatic time, her attempted suicide is followed by what is perhaps the best known aria of the entire opera: Radamisto’s lament over the death of his beloved, Ombra cara… 
Overall, what matters is that the mezzo Katie Bray was the most convincing of the six singers. 

In spite of the warnings and request for indulgence before the show, countertenor William Towers achieves a powerful Radamisto, in a title role which itself is of a rather powerless man who is saved and triumphs more due to circumstance and the doings of others than his own strength. Even though not in top form, Towers has a beautiful voice and an ideal stage presence for this role of the vulnerable emotional prince.

The opera house itself is one of those Edwardian buildings that can be admired in its seemingly almost unchanged splendour… although reading the leaflet about the building’s history suggests otherwise. The most interesting trivia is that Buxton being a spa town, the stage is over a source, and if the electric pump is unoperative, the stage is flooded by the famous, and delicious, Buxton mineral water.  

The pun of the introductory conversation before the opera was: if you like the performance, donate generously. If you don’t and you think we need to improve, donate even more generously. Lord Henry was entertained!

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