Fast-emerging US counter-tenor Patrick Terry is both a 2019 winner at the festival's annual Handel Singing Competition and a rising star in the Royal Opera House's Jette Parker scheme. In a staged version of Handel's 1749 oratorio Susanna, opening the festival at the Royal Opera House and wearing both his HSC and Jette Parker hats, he once more dazzles an audience in the Linbury Theatre.
Terry's is an outstanding talent, and he is a singer to catch whenever you can. His soaring line, warm tone, artistic phrasing and generosity to fellow singers are equally impressive. In Susanna he sings the husband, Joacim, of a young bride who is sexually abused by other men when he is obliged to leave her to go on a journey.
Patrick Terry (Joacim), Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha (Susanna) and Michael Mofidian (Chelsia) all excel. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey
Based on the Old Testament story of Susanna and the elders, often depicted in art – notably by Artemisia Gentileschi – the incident unfolds ignobly for all except the couple. Susanna's father is ineffectual, and the townspeople turn against her, Act Three in Isabelle Kettle's modern-dress production suggesting the hostility of Britten's borough in Peter Grimes.
Susanna and Joacim are part of a poor fishing community, like Grimes's Borough. The daily haul consists largely of plastic debris. The newly-weds' cluttered, seedy kitchen awkwardly impedes movement in Act One and weighs down a score that was considered positively frothy be some at the time of its first outing, on the same Covent Garden site. Only when the crud is removed for the last act does the opera open up at last.
Susanna is Handel's #MeToo piece. The young woman is taken advantage of by men whose age and status makes them believable. You could set it in Hollywood. As it is, Grace Smart's skanky design makes everyone look equally disadvantaged, which misses the point. Some costumes are frankly unhelpful to the performers and obstruct character development.
A poor seafaring community lives cheek by jowl in Susanna. Photo: Stephen Cummiskey
In the title role, South African-born soprano Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, another Jette Parker young artist, has a fine voice, and her humiliation, crudely caged and at risk of stoning, is effecting.
Watchful and energetic conducting from the harpsichord by Patrick Milne and the precision of the London Handel Orchestra all give the piece the focus and breadth the production lacks.
Like Patrick Terry, Michael Mofidian is a Jette Parker artist already in his stride, with excellent performances past and forthcoming in the main house. As Susanna's father Chelsias, hobbled by a walking stick and yet able to clamber up and down the dunes – one of many nonsensical directorial touches by Kettle (ladies, have you ever hopped up on the draining board when you are down in the mouth?) – assumes a self-absorbed air and suggests with his big, easy bass-baritone a man older but not wiser.
Chilean soprano Yaritza Véliz as a rich-voiced Daniel is still working on her English (there are no surtitles), but as a Jette Parker artist she has access to top-up training for the rest of her career. This really is a remarkable scheme and, like the Harewood Young Artists programme at English National Opera, it's where the future of British opera flourishes.
Susanna is sung in English. Further performances are on 7, 11, 12 and 14 March, returns only. The London Handel Festival runs until 10 April. Patrick Terry gives a recital in the Crush Room at the Royal Opera House at 1PM pm on Mon 16 March: click here for details. He also sings in the festival at 1PM on Thurs 19 March at St George's, Hanover Square: click here for details.
|What||Susanna, Royal Opera House & London Handel Festival review|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
05 Mar 20 – 14 Mar 20, five performances
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|