This autumn, English Touring Opera (ETO) will be touring its new Handelfest – a celebration of Handel’s life and works – to venues in the UK, with a new production of Tamerlano (1724), plus revivals of Agrippina (1709) and Ottone (1723).
Running from 1 October to 12 November, the three productions open at London’s Hackney Empire before heading to the Lighthouse Poole, Malvern Theatres, Saffron Hall, Buxton Opera House and Exeter Northcott Theatre. The orchestra for all productions will be ETO’s long-term period partners, the Old Street Band.
The festival launches on 1 October with a revival of ETO artistic director James Conway’s 2014 production of the rarely performed Ottone. The original Byzantine designs are by award-winning designer takis. The revival director is Christopher Moon-Little, with new designs by Rebecca van Beeck. The English-language translation is by Andrew Porter. The production will be conducted by ETO’s music director Gerry Cornelius.
The opera tells the story of Ottone, king of Germany, who is kept apart from his lover and bride-to-be Teofane, daughter of the Byzantine emperor, by court intrigue and the workings of fate. British countertenor James Hall sings the role of the king, with Turkish/Irish soprano Nazan Fikret as Teofane.
They are joined on stage by Scottish soprano Gillian Webster as Gismonda, widow of Berengario, ruler of Italy, Welsh countertenor Kieron-Connor Valentine as her son Adelberto, Scottish mezzo-soprano Lauren Young as Matilda, cousin of Ottone, betrothed to Adelberto, and British bass-baritone Edward Jowle as Emireno, a pirate whose real name is Basilio, brother of Teofane.
The production runs from 1 October to 9 November.
Next on the roster is James Conway’s 2013 English-language version of comedic political intrigue Agrippina, with this revival to be directed by Bradley Travis. Original designs were by Samal Blak, with Rebecca van Beeck handling designs for the revival. Leo Duarte conducts.
Handel’s earliest opera, and an immediate success, the work tells the story of its eponymous heroine, wife of Roman emperor Claudius and mother of Nero. When she learns of her husband’s death, Agrippina plots to ensure her son Nero will become ruler.
American soprano Paula Sides plays the title role, with British mezzo-soprano Esme Bronwen-Smith as her son. British bass Edward Hawkins sings the part of Claudius.
Rounding out the cast are English countertenor Timothy Morgan as Ottone, the commander of the army to whom Claudius has promised the throne, and London-based soprano Hilary Cronin as Poppea, the woman he loves. British baritone Jerome Knox and British countertenor Matthew Paine respectively sing the roles of the two freedmen, Pallante and Narciso, supporters of Agrippina. Edward Jowle is Lesbo, Claudius’s servant.
Performances take place at selected venues from 7 October to 11 November.
Closing Handelfest is James Conway’s new production of Tamerlano. Telling the story of a gripping psychological contest between Tamerlano, the emperor of the Tartars, and his captive Bajazet, sultan of the Turks, the work is notable for featuring one of the first major tenor roles in opera.
The production is designed by Rebecca van Beeck, with lighting by Tim Van’t Hof. Jonathan Peter Kenny conducts the Old Street Band.
Italian-Venezuelan countertenor Rodrigo Sosa Dal Pozzo sings the title role, with Spanish tenor Jorge Navarro Colorado as his rival Bajazet. British soprano Ellie Laugharne plays the part of Bajazet’s daughter Asteria, with James Hall as Andronico, a Greek prince who is in love with Asteria. Tamerlano’s betrothed Irene, a princess of Trebizond, is sung by British soprano April Koyejo-Audiger.
Performances take place from 8 October to 12 November. The production is sung in Italian with English surtitles.
A series of pre-show talks is also taking place throughout Handelfest, at selected venues. Members of the creative teams will share their insights into each of the productions. These events are free, but require pre-booking via eventbrite.
Further date, venue and pricing information for Handelfest is available from ETO. Tickets for all shows are on sale now.
A revival of James Conway’s 2014 production of the rarely performed Ottone kicks off this year’s Handelfest from English Touring Opera (Richard Hubart Smith).