Presenting a production that started life at the Schwetzingen Festival in Germany, the Royal Opera dives into the deepest waters of the Baroque era to come up with this 1688 work by Agostino Steffani, a name known only to specialists in this repertoire. The piece is a substantial Italian opera of the period midway between the better known Cavalli and Handel, with shorter arias than the latter. An uneven score, at its best it proves worthwhile.
The story tells of the queen of Thebes whose pride leads her to disrespect the gods – a dangerous thing to do in the world of Greek legend. Not surprisingly, her come-uppance, in the final scene, is suitably devastating: her children are all killed, her husband commits suicide and she herself is turned into stone. But the action takes its time getting there, with complex plots based on love or power politics all along the way. A stronger production might help to clarify the journey. As it is, Lukas Hemleb’s facetious rather than funny staging does not succeed in doing so, while designs by Raimund Bauer and Andrea Schmidt-Futterer are of mixed quality.
Uneven singing, too. The Polish male soprano Jacek Laszczkowski, singing Niobe’s husband Anfione, is small-scale and distinctly uneven. Veronique Gens remains cold and unsympathetic as the wilful Niobe. Iestyn Davies provides one of the evening’s best performances as Creonte, who eventually succeeds to the Theban throne. Conductor Thomas Hengelbrock brings his own Balthasar Neumann Ensemble to the Covent Garden pit, though despite their best endeavours the end product is a long and patchy evening.
Royal Opera House, London, September 23-October 3
- Agostino Steffani
- Lukas Hemleb
- Royal Opera
- Veronique Gens, Jacek Laszczkowski, Iestyn Davies, Tim Mead, Lothar Odinius, Amanda Forsythe
- Running time
- 3hrs 30mins