Ottone, English Touring Opera at Bath

ETO - Production photograph - Handel, Ottone - Photo credit Richard Hubert SmithHANDEL’S rarely performed 1723 opera Ottone, the 15th of around 50 studiously recycled operatic works, is part of the current English Touring Opera programme, and was seen at Bath Theatre Royal on 28th October.

For this tour, ETO is accompanied by The Old Street Band conducted by Jonathan Peter Kenny and the production is directed by ETO’s artistic director James Conway.

The first impression in Bath’s beautiful 1805 theatre is of opulent splendor, as Takis’s flexible jewel of a set glitters centre stage. But Ottone is in many ways a difficult work, even for fans of baroque opera.

The story is complex and multi-faceted, encompassing physical violence, mental cruelty, vaulting ambition and true goodness, all interwoven with sexual desire and maternal love that maybe had better not speak its name.

The director’s notes make a brave attempt to clarify the motives behind all this, but, sadly, the performers just don’t deliver his ideas to the audience. He talks about how Ottone and Adelberto are equally attractive at the start of the opera – well, no, they are not.

To make this opera work it is essential that the orchestra leads the singers in varied tempi, light and shade and attack. It was lamentably missing in this performance.

There was a suggestion that the auditorium’s acoustic caused the lack of punch, but I have seen and heard opera work magnificently here.

English Touring Opera - Louise Kemeny (Teofane) in Handel, Ottone - Photo credit Richard Hubert SmithThe voices of Gillian Webster as the scheming and determined Gismonda and Louise Kemeny (pictured) as the tortured Byzantine princess were magnificently outstanding but overall this highly-praised production was disappointing at its Bath performance, the lustre confined to the sets.


Photographs by Richard Hubert Smith

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