Adriano in Siria (Britten Hall, RCM, 16 April 2015)
Adriano in Siria is a bit of a cross between Tito and Lucio Silla (no wonder, it’s our friend Metastasio). Adriano (at this point in time not yet emperor) is magnanimous in the end, but, unlike Tito, he gets very angry first (in an aria where he goes you’re all enemies, you’re all evil). As usual, the exotic setting is a mere pretext for having a bunch of people in love “prove their constancy”.
Adriano: Rowan Hellier
Osroa: Stuart Jackson
Emirena: Ellie Laugharne
Farnaspe: Erica Eloff
Aquillo: Nick Pritchard
Sabina: Filipa van Eck
Conductor: Ian Page | The Orchestra of Classical Opera
Just so we’re not confusing Parthians with wallpaper, there’s local King Osroa as a paragon of savage virtue (though vanquished he won’t bow down to “the man”) who keeps harping on about dying proudly, repeatedly calls his own negotiator, Farnaspe, a coward and instructs his daughter to hate his enemy. He also sets fire to the Roman camp but – surprisingly – has no qualms about laying the blame on Farnaspe who had just snuck his daughter (whom he loves) out of the flames. So much for virtue.
The libretto is textbook Baroque: simile aria follows simile aria. The hard done by Farnaspe starts with one about hope, in which a desperate traveller lost at sea (of course) hopes for the best. Osroa continues with one about steadfastness, in which the oak does not bend to strong winds. This one was especially poignant as the king did resemble said oak. Then we have the anguished duets of lovers in peril where nobody has ever felt worse torments. Though abiding to the formulaic libretto, the music is always pleasantly tickling the ear but almost invariably overstays its welcome. Too many notes, dear JC.
The surtitles were translated for a modern audience, and proved a great and constant cause of mirth. My favourite was Aquilo’s aria about the expert gardener (ie, agriculturalist) who efficiently tends to his vineyard (by which he meant to say he was scheming to steer Sabina, the Adriano’s fiancee, into his arms). One laugh out loud moment by way of Metastasio was Sabina’s entrance, which happened within roughly 10 seconds of the first time her name was mentioned:
Adriano: Emirena, I offer you a throne and a marriage.
Emirena: But you’re already engaged to that lady Sabina back in Rome!
Adriano: Oh, that… It’s true, I was in love with her before1…
Herald: Your Highness, Lady Sabina has arrived in town!
Adriano: Take her somewhere, anywhere!
Herald: Here she is!
Sabina: Hello, gorgeous!
Roman Intel epic fail.
Seeing as how this is set in Syria, for once I did not miss a modern updating. So thank you team, for keeping it PG13 (Baroque style). We had informed constumes, complete with long bows for the Parthians and proper Roman togas/chitons. I’d say it was the type of staging one could have seen in 1765. The acting was along the same lines. If I can deal well with period settings I’m less of a fan of to and fro-ing on stage then finding a good spot to park and bark. Still, if only that spot were central… Alas, it often was to the right (audience point of view) side of the stage, which was coincidentally where I sat. But being as there wasn’t all that much acting one or two glances per aria were informative enough. Why do directors do this? Just have the singers do everything in the middle of the stage, especially when there are only 1 or 2 characters on stage to begin with.
Acting-wise I liked Stuart Jackson’s believably belligerent Osroa. There’s no character development to speak of but you still have to keep consistenly truculent without falling into (too much) parody. Next was Rowan Hellier’s Adriano, who had enough gravitas for the highest ranking chap on stage, no mean feat for a short and slender person 😉 By contrast, I can’t say Eloff made for a particularly believable young warrior. Like I was saying in the JDD Masterclass post, it’s sometimes all about how you move. Late in the opera Osroa is exasperated with Farnaspe’s apparent lack of spine and Jackson gets in her face which causes her to take a few scurrying steps behind. Hey, Farnaspe wouldn’t have scurried. He would’ve stood up to Osroa for a few moments then moved slowly backwards. The ladies who played ladies were fine, as was scheming Aquilo.
Acting out of the way, Eloff was again the vocal star. 18th century sensibilities were obviously quite different from ours; though operas were named after the highest in command the main character tended to be some young (and virtuous) chap caught in a difficult situation. Farnaspe doesn’t change during the opera any more than Osroa does but he’s neither stupid nor a coward, just very much in love and determined to follow through on that. Eloff came off most affectingly in the slow and “loving” moments such as Cara la dolce fiamma with a number of very sensitively done pianissime and diminuendos. Stuart Jackson as Osroa was another highlight, especially given his commitment throughout. I’d venture to say he had a lot of fun playing/singing the headstrong Osroa 😉 I found Ellie Laugharne’s (Emirena) tone quite intriguing and hard to describe. Perhaps slender yet opaque? It also worked well when she and Eloff sang together. I wasn’t quite as taken with Filipa van Eck’s singing, which to me seemed to rely on loudness at the expense of colour. Both Hellier and Pritchard sounded good.
Likewise the orchestra sounded good, JC Bach wrote beautiful stuff for the winds and horns. RCM’s Britten Theatre is a lovely old style hall (390 seats), with good acoustics and a great view of the orchestra and of the singers from where I sat (by which I mean I could see their features well, though not all the action). Of course after the day before I did not bring my camera…
By and large it was a highly enjoyable evening. 18th century opera lovers of all shades could do a lot worse than to make time for it when it comes around. I was surprised to see cameras in the house. I suppose a DVD might surface at some point? I’m curious to know if the cameras return tomorrow for the last show (though I won’t be there, quite sadly I must say… I will be there for Pergolesi’s take on the same libretto, though. It looks like 2015 is the year of Adriano).
- Before he realised he was gay, of course… ↩