Tolomeo – London Handel Festival

Written by: Colin Anderson

This year’s London Handel Festival concludes with Tolomeo, a collaboration between English Touring Opera and the Royal College of Music. James Conway, General Director of ETO (at Hackney Empire in October) is directing. “A lot of things happen before the show starts. Cleopatra has two sons and she co-reigns with the one who’s married and has two kids. She gets tired of them. She sends his wife off to a tyrant, kills his kids, exiles him and then takes up with her younger son. He flees and follows his brother. They become shipwrecked. Tolomeo is thinking about suicide from the first aria. It’s wonderful actually! He’s resisting the impulse to be dehumanised. There are complications though!”

James has been giving the student singers “references: I’m trying to get them to bring some emotionalism to the stage to realise that there is abject misery not many blocks from here, in Soho. I’ve talked a lot about that feeling of helplessness. Misery is not the same as depression. I’ve been studying Tolomeo for about three years. The story can tell itself and we’re working hard to ensure the poetry of the piece has a chance of resonating with the audience. The depths of suffering are plumbed; lots of sad music but a happy ending. We haven’t yet reached emotional honesty, but it’s just about time we did; when the orchestra turns up, the singers need to start thinking about the music again. Its effect is uplifting. The singers must bring something of themselves.”

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