A lesser known opera in the Handelian repertoire, Ottone is by no mean the least. With an intriguing plot and dramatic and well-paced music, the opera stands up against any of his more popular works. Takis’ simple but beautifully elegant domed set harmonised perfectly with the golden decoration of the Hackney Empire, where English Touring Opera start their UK tour of this production, along with Life on the Moon (Haydn). These huge curved cross-sections cast ominous shadows down onto persons trapped in a clandestine world, where destiny and fate are uncertain. James Conway’s production is simplistic but bold, gripping and otherworldly; he allows the beautiful music of Handel to soar without any detriment to the pace and development of the drama. Quite a convoluted plot to follow, Ottone is about to be wed to Teofane, but when she arrives to be his bride is instead held captive by an impersonator, Adelberto, pretending to be the Saxon King, and his mother Gismonda. Ottone also has a sister who is in love with Adelberto and Teofane a long-lost brother, Emireno. Needless to say the drama remains fascinating until the end as characters reveal their true identities to each other and are finally reconciled.
Without a doubt the best performance of the evening, with both an outstanding voice and stage presence, was Gillian Webster as Gismondo. Her shimmering coloratura lifted us out of the darkness and into the heavens – so good was her singing in the role. Clint van der Linde, as Ottone, too shone in his role, with some florid decoration in challenging arias. Louise Kemeny as the timid, and rather wet, Teofane was youthful in voice but angelic – she suits the role well. Though a minor role, Grant Doyle, as the pirate Emireno, brings a bit more gravitas to proceedings, his baritone silky and effortless. Rosie Aldridge is fierce as Matilda and Andrew Radley suitably annoying as Adelberto, though finely sung.
The music of Handel’s opera is performed by the small ensemble cast with great tenderness and beauty, and with the simple but extremely effective scenography of ETO’s creative team the production is quite superb. I implore any theatre-goer normally put off by early opera to see it; with some lovely music, singing and an inspired presentation, Ottone is a sure-fire hit for English Touring Opera.
Ottone is on tour around the UK until 22 November. For more information and tickets, see the English Touring Opera website.