Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria

Monteverdi, Badoaro
Royal Northern College of Music
Royal Northern College of Music
09 December 2012 to 15 December 2012

The Return Of Ulysses To His Homeland – though sung in Italian it was, thank goodness, surtitled – is one of Claudio Monteverdi’s greatest achievements and one of the earliest operas (dating from 1639) to have the kind of mix of dialogue-style recitation and song-like reflection which became the standard for so many years in western Europe.

It was written for Venice in carnival season, where they liked things spectacular. Director Stefan Janski and his team do not disappoint, coming up with a big set, two-storeyed on two sides, which revolves to supply both Penelope’s palace and the coast of Ithaca, and also Ulysses’ ship when necessary.

And then there are the effects – lots of thunder and lightning, and some neat stage illusions (Darren Lang) of which the best was the shooting of the arrows from Ulysses’ great bow as he returns to rid his wife of her pestering suitors.

So they’ve thrown everything they can at making the opera work as drama for today. It’s still very long – three-and-a-half hours plus – and of course for its student performers an exercise in acting and singing in period style as much as anything else. Under Roger Hamilton’s calm guidance they succeeded superbly in that (it’s his performing edition, too) and revealed the score as one of remarkable emotion and atmosphere as well as challenge.

It’s a shame to single out a few from a very large cast, but those I must mention include mezzo Heather Lowe as Penelope and baritone Daniel Shelvey as Ulisse. She is a dramatic actress and resourceful singer with a rich lower register: he is a commanding figure with assurance and power.

Catrin Woodruff (the sassy Minerva, who helps Ulisse along) is an accomplished performer with a bright, ringing soprano, and Elizabeth Humphries (Melanto, Penelope’s servant) confident and vocally mature.

Thomas Hopkinson (Nettuno, Tempo) has a great dark bass sound, and two young singers with great promise are Timothy Langston (Eumete) and Adam Temple-Smith (Eurimaco).

Alexandra Downie (Amore) and Adam Player (Iro, the funny fat man) were both charmers; Michael Jones (Telemacho) is a developing tenor with a big voice, and others to watch include James Fisher, Stuart Overington and Thomas Morss. Jessica Gillingwater sang Giunone magnificently.

Reviewer: Robert Beale