The small but potent opera company Hampstead Garden Opera works with singers towards the beginning of their careers, staging operas twice a year.
In this production of Partenope, Handel’s ridiculous tale of gender-swaps and love rivals, relocated here to a Victorian seaside, two casts alternate each night.
The setting means black-and-white-striped bathing suits all round, while a beach ball and umbrella become the queen’s orb and sceptre. That’s a fun little visual gag from director Ashley Pearson, but is pretty much where the inventiveness ends.
Frankly, the directing is a bit of a mess. It’s unfocused and unclear, with characters being allowed to do their own thing, which means they end up being distractions from what we’re meant to be focusing on. The beach setting, worse than being just pointless, actually makes the opera’s confusing plot even more so.
There are also a couple of slightly iffy performances, particularly during some of the trickier runs in Handel’s music.
However, in the cast I saw, there are also two blowaway performances from Francis Gush as Arsace and Anne-Sofie Soby Jensen as Eurimene/Rosmira. Gush’s countertenor voice is bell clear and beautiful, his every word beautifully sung, while Jensen’s mezzo-soprano is all smoothness and richness.
So, despite the production’s flaws, a couple of fine singers and a wonderfully sharp orchestra under conductor Bertie Baigent make for a pleasant evening – and it’s particularly exciting to see performers already so talented at the beginning of their careers.