Chicago Opera Theater does Teseo | Bleader

Chicago Opera Theater does Teseo

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Cecelia Hall
Staging a Handel opera is a bitch. The combination of a near-total lack of action and the relentless repetition of everything is enough to put contemporary audiences into a stupor. In which case they miss some pretty divine music.

It’s the director’s job to keep those eyeballs open, even when the action has ground to a da capo halt. But how? Bring on a can-can line? Run a video? (Can’t believe I’m thinking this, but that might work.) Pass out more of those nice little nine-dollar bottles of wine?

The usual solution is a sort of excruciating stage business in which singers perform vocal feats while simultaneously going through the slow-motion choreography of some action or other intended to provide visual interest: they pace, they pose, they threaten or grope each other, and, occasionally, they have sex.

Chicago Opera Theater’s mostly straight-up production of George Frideric Handel’s rarely performed Teseo employs a lot of water-carrying (and pouring) for this purpose. It doesn’t work nearly as well as the dry humping, which also makes an appearance.

First produced in 1713, and written for castrati and sopranos (a single bass role has been excluded), Teseo picks up on the further adventures of Medea, who has moved on to Athens after murdering her children and burning the city of Corinth in a jealous rage. There, her plans A and B—to marry King Egeo or his rival and long-lost son, Teseo—are foiled by the fact that both men are in love with the king’s young ward, Agilea. Medea gets mad, but there's a happy ending.

Standouts in COT’s talented young cast include Italian soprano Maneula Bisceglie as Agilea, as well as countertenor David Trudgen and soprano Deanna Berwick as a pair of servants, lovers, and adept mimes. Ryan Training Center mezzo-soprano and COT award winner Cecelia Hall wears the pants in the title role. The inventive-for-its-time, all-high-voice score offers numerous felicitous duets. Michael Beattie conducts the Baroque Band (and mans the harpsichord); both the sepia-toned costumes and the mostly sober staging are the work of director James Darrah.

Catch it at 7:30 PM April 27 and May 2, and 3:00 PM April 29 at the Harris Theater, 312-334-7777; ask about student discounts and rush tickets. Tickets are also available at ChicagoOperaTheater.org.

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