Handel wrote his enchanting comedy about the legendary queen of Naples surrounded by her suitors in 1730. Christopher Alden’s sharp and funny updating to a Twenties Paris salon, awash with surrealist ideas, presided over by a drop-dead elegant Nancy Cunard figure, is as good as, perhaps even surpasses its first stylish outing in 2008.
The production has gelled more, with terrific ensemble playing under Christian Curnyn of the Early Opera Company. Partenope (dazzling Sarah Tynan gambolling among the ornamentations like a dolphin) is complemented by Arsace (lustrous mezzo Patricia Barden convincing in this trouser role), Armindo (countertenor James Laing), burly deliciously camp Ormonte (Matthew Durkan) and new arrival Eurimene, who is really Rosmira, Arsace’s jilted lover come in search of him, sung by Stephanie Windsor-Lewis. Completed by warlike Emilio (Rupert Charlesworth) here imagined as Man Ray – it is all sophisticated poise and louche sexuality, with everyone giving their comedic all.
Amanda Holden’s fearless translation zips along, with occasional profanity used to maximum, glorious effect, while Alden finds a way to use each ravishing da capo aria as a joyous occasion for more fun. He catches Handel’s playfulness but also his deeply empathetic understanding of love. Staged as well as this, sung as mellifluously as this, it’s one not to be missed.