Alessandro Stradella, 1678 The Power of Paternal Love – The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham – The Barber Opera, University of Birmingham 14 April 2023 – 5*****, David Gray & Paul Gray

Written in the mid- Baroque, a period when opera had moved on from the early dominance of monody and had yet to be straight-jacketed by convention, Stradella’s La forza dell’amor paterno, employs a wide range of compositional techniques.  The result is a work that flows deftly between recitative, highly ornamented and expressive passages of monody, snippets of arioso, and full blow arias.  Form is matched to emotional and dramatic need, to create a vibrant, psychologically and emotionally convincing whole; a whole which transcends the inevitable narrative absurdities.

Designer, Anna Reid’s split level, uncluttered white-box set facilities a fluid dramatic approach which complements and exploits the flexibility of Stradella’s score.  The setting is modern. The King, Seleuco, sung and acted with tremendous authority by Paul Hopwood, is now some kind of billionaire mogul, living a calm, Zen-like life under the influence of his guru, Eristrato.  Giuseppe Pellingra invests this pivotal role with playful warmth & wit. 

The action takes place in a gallery hung with pieces of geometric art.  Gallery visitors wander around observing and occasionally interacting with the dramatic travails of the main actors.  A comment, perhaps, on how our own modern lives are increasingly lived “on display”. 

The first two scenes are slightly marred by some superfluous action.  It feels as through the production does not quite trust the drama to deliver on its own merits.  So we have some business with umbrellas and mobile phones, and a faffing around with a laptop during an aria. Countertenor, Francis Gush manages to rise above these distractions by virtue of his rich, smokey voice and fine musicality.

As the show progresses, Christopher Cowell’s direction becomes more surefooted.  The actors are allowed to explore the truth of the text without unnecessary embellishments. The action flows from, and follows through, the emotional and musical impulses in the score.  The result is convincing and compelling.

The hero, Antioco, played by Lara Marie Müller, sings with a burnished tone, and she totally immerses herself in the character’s psychological disintegration.  Her obligatory mad scene, where – a la Star Wars – she brandishes and then stabs herself with a toy “light-sabre”, is wonderfully funny, yet, at the same time, poignantly moving.  Galina Averina, as Antioco’s would-be lover, Stratonica, ornaments with dexterity and expression. Averina perfectly captures the exquisite agony of the characters’ conflicted situations.

Although, on the he face of it, the opera’s plot may seem sprawling and overly complex, all of the various sub-plots cleverly interact.  They present a variety of complementary perspectives on the action and motivations of the human heart.  This aspect of the work is highlighted by a set of well-realised minor characters who all have their distinct stories to tell. This delightful tale is translated well by Cowell from the original Italian, with instrumental parts by Professor Colin Timms.

The singing is uniformly excellent. Conductor, Andrew Kirkman, gives a brisk, energetic reading, and creates tight ensemble between the fine players of the Musical and Amicable  Society Orchestra and the singers on the stage. 

This excellent production presents a compelling argument for an impressive and sophisticated piece of musical theatre.  Let us hope that another 345 years don’t have to elapse before it is performed again.

Cast Antioco – Lara Marie Müller * Stratonica – Galina Averina * Arbante – Fancis Gush * Seleuco – Paul Hopwood * Lucinda – Joanna Harries * Eristrato – Giuseppe Pellingra * Silo – Brendan Collins * Eurindo – Andy Shen Liu * Rubia – Helen Stanley * Extras – Bethany Lewin & Katherine Cross

Creatives Director & Translation – Christopher Cowell * Designer – Anna Reid * Lighting – Matthew Cater * Musical Director – Andrew Kirkman

Musical and Amicable Society Orchestra

ReviewsGate Copyright Protection