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Radamisto review at Hackney Empire, London – ‘vitality and visual magic’

Grant Doyle and Ellie Laugharne in Radamisto at Hackney Empire. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Over the years English Touring Opera has been loyal to Handel, staging several of his operas with the colourful period-instrument forces of the Old Street Band in the pit, and then taking them up and down the country: Radamisto visits nine venues.

The first of Handel’s works written for the Royal Academy of Music – the opera company he helped found in London in 1720, and kept going for the next fourteen years – Radamisto is set in Armenia in 53 AD and is yet another saga of bad behaviour in the ancient world. Director James Conway and designer Adam Wiltshire move the period forward by some centuries.

Radamisto is the son of Farasmane, deposed king of Thrace, whose brother-in-law Tiridate, despite being married to Radamisto’s sister Polissena, lusts sufficiently after Radamisto’s wife Zenobia to wage war to force her to give herself to him. How all these characters – plus Tiridate’s ally Tigrane – negotiate their way to a happy ending forms the plot of the high-flown drama.

Handel’s score is a fine one, conveyed with vitality and character by the cast and orchestra with the encouragement of conductor Peter Whelan.

Conway’s production keeps things as clear as possible – not an easy task given the swift twists and turns ordained in the drama; each aria registers some new outrage to respond to.

Individual cast members have a lot to offer: Andrew Slater in his blustery impotence as Farasmane, Katie Bray in her noble obstinacy as Zenobia, Grant Doyle making a vigorous villain as Tiridate, Ellie Laugharne a spitfire of a Polissena. William Towers has the tone and stature for Radamisto but not enough of his text comes over. John-Colyn Gyeantey tries to keep the peace as a suave Tigrane.

Consistently hitting the spot are Wiltshire’s designs, which conjure the oriental splendour of ancient Armenia with genuine visual magic.

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English Touring Opera's brilliantly designed, well-sung production of Handel’s opera