Henry Waddington, Sophie Bevan, Ryan McKinny in Radamisto, (c) Clive Barda
The Coliseum reinforces its reputation as the 'House of Handel' with this stunning new production of Radamisto, the 1720 work that began the German composer's twenty-year domination of London opera.
Set in ancient times, the story tells of the King of Armenia's attempts to conquer Thrace and win the princess Zenobia, even though he is already married to Polissena who is the sister of Zenobia's husband, Radamisto.
David Alden, who has directed such English National Opera hits as Jen?fa and Peter Grimes, takes the opera's generally slow pace as a meter, and works from this to offer a staging that feels remarkably dynamic.
The stylised set of curved walls and shiny floors heightens the emotional impact as large shadows and reflections of the characters appear everywhere. People rise from the orchestra pit or stand aloft the walls, and memento mori lie all around. A large model of a panther tearing into a hippopotamus occupies the stage, while soldiers collapse with arrows in their back even as the soloists sing.
Laurence Cummings conducts with skill, while Lawrence Zazzo dazzles as Radamisto, his strong counter-tenor voice rising to ethereal heights. Christine Rice as Zenobia is sweet of voice and elegant of bearing, while Sophie Bevan captures Polissena's ever growing assertiveness across the opera. As Tiridate, King of Armenia, Ryan McKinny is a strong malevolent presence, Henry Waddington as the King of Thrace proves a brilliantly firm bass, while Ailish Tynan very nearly steals the show as Tigrane, the Prince of Pontus.
There is no denying that the ending to Radamisto is trite, but having just witnessed counter-tenors, Handel opera and the ENO all at their very best, we doubt anyone will be in the mood to care.
Until 29 October (eight performances).Tickets: 0871 911 02000 or from the ENO website
By Samuel Smith