15th October 2016
Ancient Greek hero Ulysses is a man back in fashion. After My Father Ulysses at the Unicorn Theatre last month, he is now on the stage in opera form, thanks to Ulysses’ Homecoming by Monteverdi.
This is the final part of a trio of productions that the English Touring Opera are bringing to the Hackney Empire this month, and they certainly finished in style.
This opera follows the tail end of Ulysses’ epic journey, joining when the war hero is condemned to a variety of trials at sea by the vengeful gods. His wife Penelope stays at home hoping for his return, but is struggling to keep a group of suitors at bay. The play follows Ulysses’ journey home, where he is aided by shepherds, maids, his son Telemachus and the helpful goddess Minerva.
It is an engaging tale, brilliantly performed and staged with imagination. The show uses Anne Ridler’s English translation rather than the original Italian, but the libretto is crisp and lyrical and supported by some very useful surtitles.
The show starts with an entertaining prologue from the mysterious characters of Time, Fortune and Love; and although Act One initially drags a bit, from then on the production is vibrant, energetic and colorful.
The characters were well drawn and realistically portrayed (and how great to see a female goddess pulling the strings – girl power in 1639!). The only slight drag is the character Irus; described as a ‘minion’, he is a bewildering figure portrayed in a grotesque fat-suit that seems at odds with the tone of the remainder of the show.
There were a number of strong performances amongst a superb cast, especially considering most members are playing three different roles in three different productions for ETO this month.
Benedict Nelson was a suitably brooding Ulysses and had strong chemistry and harmonisation with his son, played by Nick Pritchard.
Mezzo-soprano Katie Bray was calculating and confident as goddess Minerva, boasting an incredible upper register; as did Clint van der Linde, a remarkable male counter tenor who took on a number of roles.
The set design from Takis is as functional as you may expect from a touring production, but also contains some clever touches, such as archery bows doubling up as rowing boats. Jonathan Peter Kenny’s orchestra provides excellent support, as did the costume designs, which nicely blended modern and classical elements.
This is an entertaining and skillfully staged production of one of Monteverdi’s most popular operas. Make sure you go and see it at a theatre near you; you’re sure of an epic night…
Photos: Richard Hubert Smith