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ENGLISH Tour­ing Opera’s [ETO] much-awaited an­nual visit to Bath The­atre Royal week sees them per­form across two con­sec­u­tive nights as they present Radamisto, one of the finest works of the great drama­tist and com­poser Ge­orge Fred­eric Han­del on Mon­day fol­lowed the next day by a unique triple bill of rare 17th cen­tury mu­sic and opera, fea­tur­ing Henry Purcell’s Dido and Ae­neas, Jonas by Gi­a­como Caris­simi and I Will Not Speak by Carlo Ge­su­aldo. ETO’S ac­claimed new stag­ing of Radamisto is fa­mous for its aria Om­bra Cara which stunned au­di­ences and was sung in many a draw­ing room for decades there­after. Cham­pi­oning themes of faith­ful­ness and mar­ried love, it tells the dra­matic story of a royal fam­ily in old Ar­me­nia, who are locked in mor­tal con­flict. And, for good mea­sure, it has a fine gallery of moral de­prav­ity and in­tol­er­ance. Tak­ing the Ar­me­nian set­ting as in­spi­ra­tion, Adam Wilt­shire’s de­signs draw on a rich his­tory of early Chris­tian art and de­sign from the Cau­ca­sus. But what ac­tu­ally makes ‘one of Han­del’s most ap­pre­ci­ated op­eras’ so well loved by au­di­ences? I asked Katie Bray, who is play­ing Zeno­bia in this new pro­duc­tion. “Firstly, I didn’t know that it was called that be­cause it isn’t done very much,” the de­light­fully friendly Ex­eter-born mezzo-so­prano told me. “But I can see why it is be­cause the mu­sic is so in­cred­i­bly dra­matic with so much va­ri­ety in it. Radamisto also has such in­cred­i­ble arias and a most thrilling over­ture. It re­ally is full of gems. And the story is very dra­matic too, and easy to be sucked into,” Katie added, adding that Radamisto is the name of the main char­ac­ter who is ‘the sort of hero of the show’ and mar­ried to her char­ac­ter Zeno­bia. Radamisto is de­scribed as an opera which ‘cham­pi­ons faith­ful­ness and mar­ried love’ with ‘a fine gallery of moral de­prav­ity and in­tol­er­ance’? What does that mean ex­actly? “Wow,” Katie re­sponded straight away. “Well I think that is right, be­cause the foun­da­tion of the story is that the very moral and hon­ourable Radamisto and Zeno­bia are very much in love with each other. That’s the crux of the mat­ter. But, along the way, they are in the hands of a tyrant who wants his wicked way with her, so that’s where some of the moral de­prav­ity and in­tol­er­ance you men­tion comes in. “The tyrant is es­sen­tially some kind of psy­chopath with no moral com­pass at all. And he won’t stop at any­thing to get what he wants. He wants Zeno­bia and won’t give up un­til he gets her!” In many ways not so dif­fer­ent from the way some peo­ple be­have to­day, I sug­gested. “Oh yes, ab­so­lutely,” Katie replied. “It is a to­tally time­less play and I think that’s why peo­ple con­nect with it. Vi­o­lence isn’t go­ing to solve any­thing, yet it con­tin­ues to hap­pen. The tyran­ni­cal char­ac­ter is in­cred­i­bly greedy and he al­ways has his way. A bit like Don­ald Trump re­ally,” the re­cently mar­ried opera star said with a laugh. Katie dis­agreed with my as­ser­tion that all the ‘best’ op­eras are sung in Ital­ian. “No, I re­ally wouldn’t agree with that even though lots and lots of them are fan­tas­tic and ob­vi­ously writ­ten in Ital­ian. But there re­ally are many, many won­der­ful French and Ger­man op­eras too. I think that Ital­ian opera is done more, though. And, of course,” Katie added, “English. They are not all just Gilbert &

Sul­li­van. There’s Ben­jamin Brit­ten for ex­am­ple, whose works are mind-blow­ingly won­der­ful. And there’s also lots of won­der­ful con­tem­po­rary English op­eras as well. So we shouldn’t think that only Ital­ian opera is worth both­er­ing with, as great as it is.” Be­fore singing in Ital­ian, is it es­sen­tial to know the piece in English first? “It de­pends re­ally. Be­cause we’ve all been in this busi­ness for a while, trav­elled around a lot, sung lots of songs and per­formed in lots of op­eras, so we pick up the lan­guage as we go along. And, in some cases, we learn to speak the lan­guage as well, en­abling us to work out just what the song or score is about,” Kate said mat­ter-of-factly. “But what I find re­ally use­ful is what our direc­tor James does with us at re­hearsal. He gets us to play the scene first of all in Ital­ian and then gets us to trans­late it into English. This helps us to get right into the text and right into the char­ac­ters. “To be a con­vinc­ing per­former you can’t just say the words in the per­fect ac­cent, be­cause oth­er­wise you might as well just be read­ing a shop­ping list.” Con­sis­tently earn­ing praise for her out­stand­ing stage pres­ence and vo­cal per­for­mances, Katie has fast es­tab­lished her­self as an artist to watch. Per­form­ing with highly-re­spected com­pa­nies such as English Na­tional Opera, Welsh Na­tional Opera, Opera North and Scot­tish Opera, Katie’s nu­mer­ous stage cred­its are most im­pres­sive in­clud­ing Hansel and Gre­tel, Caval­le­ria Rus­ti­cana, Don Gio­vanni, La Scala di Seta and Bar­biere di Sav­iglia. And now back with English Tour­ing Opera and Radamisto, the com­pany de­scribed her as ‘a jewel in this coun­try’s op­er­atic crown.’ Quite an ac­co­lade. “Yes, it’s an amaz­ing thing to say. But it is such a fan­tas­tic com­pany, par­tic­u­larly for launch­ing young singers at the be­gin­ning of their ca­reers,” Katie- ‘very much a Devon girl still,’ replied. “ETO’S skill re­ally lies in help­ing to get peo­ple on the lad­der, to get them started. They are a won­der­ful com­pany, re­ally sup­port­ive and very loyal to peo­ple they take on.” For some peo­ple, opera is and al­ways will be re­garded as a some­what elit­ist genre. But how did this some­what ‘snobby’ and dis­parag­ing la­bel come about? “I think some of it is to do with lan­guage bar­ri­ers, be­cause many times we are singing in a lan­guage which is not [the au­di­ence’s] mother tongue. And also I think there used to be such a crazy price for opera tick­ets which was pro­hib­i­tive for so many peo­ple. But that’s not so much the case now be­cause it is much more af­ford­able now which is the way it should be. Opera should be there for all, the cost of tick­ets prices should not be a bar­rier. And the re­ally good opera com­pa­nies are al­ready mak­ing op­eras ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one by ad­dress­ing this is­sue.” Does Katie feel that singing in an opera is harder than speak­ing as in a straight drama? “I don’t think so. We all tell sto­ries in what we do, but I sup­pose we in opera just hap­pen to have an­other layer of mu­sic on top of it. I sup­pose we might feel more re­stricted be­cause we have to go with the me­tre of the mu­sic. I sup­pose the mu­sic en­hances your abil­ity to tell the story.” Katie, who still has fam­ily liv­ing in Ex­eter, is equally at home on the con­cert plat­form per­form­ing in pres­ti­gious venues such as Wig­more Hall, Cado­gan Hall and the Holy­well Mu­sic Room, as well as ap­pear­ing reg­u­larly in the Lon­don Song Fes­ti­val. Par­tic­u­larly noted for her baroque reper­toire, Katie grad­u­ated as a Kar­avi­o­tis Scholar from the opera course at the Royal Academy of Mu­sic and was awarded the Prin­ci­pal’s Prize, and won First Prize, in the Richard Lewis Singing Com­pe­ti­tion. Di­rected by James Con­way and sung in Ital­ian with English sub­ti­tles, Radamisto is be­ing per­formed by ETO’S pe­riod orches­tra the Old Street Band. Radamisto’s direc­tor James Con­way said: “I love Radamisto. Not only is it rich in mu­si­cal and dra­matic in­ven­tion, but it fields a group of flawed, fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters who are tested al­most be­yond en­durance, who learn the harsh­est truths about them­selves and oth­ers, who don’t nec­es­sar­ily im­prove - but who sur­prise, charm, se­duce, re­pel and en­dure.”

Radamisto is play­ing the The­atre Royal Bath on Mon­day Novem­ber 12. The Triple Bill of Dido & Ae­neas, Jonas and I Will Not Speak takes to the stage on Tues­day Novem­ber 13. Tick­ets can be bought from the box of­fice on 01225 448844 and on­line at www.the­atreroyal.org.uk

All pic­tures of Radamisto by Richard Hu­bert Smith

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