Berenice at the Royal Opera House
Berenice is a musical interpretation of notions of love and power and love as power which imagines unity between Egypt and Rome via the marriage of Queen Berenice (Clare Booth) to the Roman Prince Alessandro (Jacquelyn Stucker). However, through an emotionally powerful song, My Heart Will Not Allow, the titular monarch asserts her belief in love as the basis for marriage.
Handel’s opera returns to the stage after its premiere at Covent Garden Theatre almost 282 years later. Adele Thomas directs the new English translation by Selma Dimitrijevic, which tells the story of Berenice’s shared secret love for Demetrio (James Laing), who is in turn in love with her sister Princess Selene (Racheal Lloyd). The Roman envoy Fabio (Alessandro Fisher) wishes that the queen marry Prince Alessandro, who is besotted by Berenice. The monarch’s refusal to marry him could signal the threat of war between the two countries, meanwhile, in the court various characters struggle with love, longing and rejection, setting the scene for beautifully touching songs such as the Booth and Laing duet If My Crime is That I Love Him We Will Seek Revenge Together.
Musicians play in the court accompanying the singers, but Booth takes over the show with a vocal capacity that is bound to raise the hair at the back of the neck. The soprano duet between Booth and Stucker at the end, when they unite in passion, is nothing short of phenomenal, complimented by the London Hendel Orchestra under conductor Laurence Cummings, who creates a dialogue between the singers and orchestra. This leads to a poignant moment in which Demetrio raises his arms to the rising sound of the music when he is told that his lover Selene is betrothed to Prince Arsace (Patrick Terry), calling on Hades to destroy the kingdom that has played with his love-struck heart.
When Demetrio is locked up for plotting against Berenice, Selene turns to the feeble Prince Arsace, offering her body as a gift if he can manage to break the chains of her lover Demetrio. What worked almost 3 decades ago, though admittedly not the best of Handel, will not work in the modern multi-cultural hub that is London unless it moves away from the colonial vision that imagines a white monarchy in Egypt. This show is worth watching, however, for its outstanding performance and the bond between the cast, not to mention the sensational orchestra.
Photos: Clive Barda
Berenice is at the Royal Opera House from 27th March until 7th April 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.