Yesterday saw the premier of Partenope, Georg Friedrich Handel and Silvio Stampiglia's dramma per musica, in Vienna's Theater an der Wien.
The action takes place in and around the five-star Hollywood-style villa belonging to the unchaste but chaseable Partenope who is suitably armed with her playful whip. It's a kind of get-together party in which various sexual tastes appear to be subtly catered for. A couple of gate crashers turn up as is normal with these sorts of festivities. One, Rosmira, is disguised as a young man. She intends to spy on her lover Arsace. The other is Emilio from down the road. He thinks he fancies the lissom Partenope. Christophe Rousett and his baroque orchestra Les Talens Lyriques will more than ably supply the almost 4 hours of music to go along with all the fun and games.
In the sunny morning-after-the-night-before the guests wander around in beach robes and flipflops, toss plastic dolphins and beach balls into the sunshine. Partenope's personal lithe but well-muscled fitness trainer is on hand to provide gentle massage and stretching exercise. Loves arrows are pointing in several directions. Ormonde, Portenope's gay secretary, flits through the whole business with wonderful limp-wristed humour.
The plot quickly becomes a classic bedroom farce with lovers and potential lovers appearing and disappearing through the usual doors: Tell me dear heaven which of my lovers shall I leave?, I follow the ways of wild animals and know not the ways of love, and Terrible Cupid attacks us with lies! are the messages emerging from the degenerating party which rapidly degenerates into nothing less than a realistic War Games scenario; complete with fog of war, modern weaponry, camouflage gear, hooded and chained prisoners, and a final victory scene reminiscent of the raising of the American standard on Iwo Jima. The Partenope victory flag is a sheet of brown and black military camouflage material and is accompanied by the singing of Beloved walls we celebrate my victory!
In the third and final scene the local stud Emilio confidently rides off into the sunset on his silver and chrome deep-throated Harley motorcyle, not with Portenope as he had at first intended, but now with his new love Rosmira. Her manly disguise was uncovered during a boxing contest. The fate of the other lovers is left in the balance.
David Daniels counter-tenor, as the blundering hopeless torn-apart lover Arsace brings the house to a roar with his rendition of I go but without my heart. It's all a stark contrast to the computer controlled hydraulics of the bare concrete, brushed aluminium and polished teak of the playgirl's seaside villa.
Enthusiastic applause and seven or eight curtain calls. A marvellous and magical evening and a great way to mark Georg Friedrich Handel's birthday. The composer was born in Halle, Germany, 324 years ago today. By Georg, it was some party!