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Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria review at the Grange, Hampshire – ‘a mixed affair’

Anna Bonitatibus and Harry Nicolli in Il Ritorno di Ulisse in Patria at The Grange Festival. Photo: Bob Workman Anna Bonitatibus and Harry Nicoll in Il Ritorno di Ulisse in Patria at The Grange Festival. Photo: Bob Workman
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A new event at a familiar address, the Grange Festival launches with Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland – a canny choice given artistic director Michael Chance’s long experience of Baroque music as one of the world’s leading countertenors.

Chance is also credited as musical director of the opening production, though he doesn’t conduct: with the accompanying pit orchestra split on either side of the protruding apron stage central to Sumant

Jayakrishnan’s idiosyncratic designs – members of the period-specialist ensembles The Academy of Ancient Music and The Division Lobby – there are a few co-ordination problems on the first night.

No quarrel with the quality of the playing, though, nor with the stylistically apt vocal performances Chance has developed with his cast.

At best they are very fine. Both physically and vocally, Paul Nilon turns in an extraordinary Ulisse. Anna Bonitatibus’ Penelope takes a while to settle but goes on to convey movingly the barely controlled desperation of Ulisse’s beleaguered wife.

There’s strong work from her three deplorable suitors – most notably a vocally resplendent Antinoo from Paul Whelan, who like one or two other cast members collects three roles over the course of the evening.

Ronald Samm offers a larger-than-life comic turn as the gluttonous Iro while Thomas Elwin makes his mark with his direct Telemaco and Nigel Robson holds the attention as Eumete, the shepherd loyal to Ulisse.

Tim Supple’s staging is a mixed affair, its physicality often engaging but its period-mixing and sometimes wacky costumes occasionally upstaging the characters who wear them; its tone is not so much ambiguous as uncertain. But Chance and the company demonstrate that the scale of the piece perfectly matches this 550-seat venue, which may well prove to be a portent of things to come.

Verdict
An imperfect production that nevertheless provides an auspicious launch for a new festival
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