On 1 October, English Touring Opera returned to live performance at Hackney Empire with the opening night of a new production of Handel’s Amadigi, directed by ETO Director James Conway and conducted by Jonathan Peter Kenny. Both countertenor William Towers in the title role, and soprano Francesca Chiejina as the sorceress Melissa, have been well reviewed:
“Francesca Chiejina, as Melissa, flouncing around in garish orange, also excelled at following Handel’s genius for digging beneath the characters’ surfaces, making us share the sorceress’s own pain at getting nowhere loving Amadigi for herself.”
Geoff Brown, The Times ****
“The opera’s greatness lies in Handel’s delineation of Dardano and Melissa as tragic protagonists unrequited in love, and the performances here are strong. Chiejina is exceptional, whether attempting seduction, conjuring up Furies or giving voice to lonely despair.”
“Towers sounds handsome”
Tim Ashley, The Guardian
"[Melissa], sung with confidence, beauty of tone, and flexibility by Francesca Chiejina..."
Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times
“William Towers, sensuous and affecting as Amadigi, negotiated the often taxing countertenor role with aplomb.”
Barry Millington, Evening Standard
“[Amadigi] is a more entertaining work than its unfamiliarity may suggest. It’s one of Handel’s magic operas, its story a typically convoluted mixture of frustrated love affairs, but the dominating role of the sorceress Melissa, well sung by rich-voiced soprano Francesca Chiejina, casts a potent spell throughout (her death scene is musically most original).”
Richard Fairman, Financial Times
“In the title role, countertenor William Towers gave a performance of physical charisma and vocal charm…”
“[Kenny] shaped the score lovingly and supported his singers with unfailing security, none more acutely the stellar pair of Francesca Chiejina (Melissa) and Harriet Eyley (Oriana) in their fiery Act 2 duo, a world class highlight of a musically gripping evening.”
Mark Valencia, Bachtrack ****
“The most interesting character is Melissa, whose heart is suffused with sorrow and sadism in equal measure – emotions which the Nigerian-American soprano Francesca Chiejina communicates with captivating strength, inspiring scorn and sympathy alike. Chiejina’s rich and full-bodied soprano is flexible and easily encompasses the role’s wide range, allowing her to capture the emotional extremes between which Melissa fluctuates. Thus, the beseeching phrases of the first section of Melissa’s opening aria convey the anguish which Amadigi’s rejection afflicts, but such tenderness is swept aside by tempestuousness in the fiery threats that follow. Chiejina’s suppleness and gleaming tone at the top serve her well in the fiery rage aria, with obbligato trumpet, that closes Act 2 – a virtuosic exultation in violent savagery. In contrast, her final arioso ebbs painfully, the interpretative details deeply affecting. Amadigi is less distinctively characterised by Handel but countertenor William Towers creates a credible hero. His recent disc, Handelian Pyrotechnics, confirmed Towers’ vocal agility and accuracy, and he has no difficulty negotiating the technical hurdles, never pressing his voice too hard even when Amadigi is at his most wracked or fervent. His opening appeal to the night to aid his escape is touchingly phrased, and when mocked by Melissa and rent from Oriana, Amadigi’s pleas for Fate to reunite him with his beloved or let him die are beautifully poignant.”
Claire Seymour, Opera Today
“Negotiating the coloratura of the arias, as well as portraying the complex roles of the protagonists are the main difficulties facing the four singers in this opera. Most successful is countertenor William Towers in the title role. He has a smooth, expressive, agile voice and easily copes with everything that Handel throws at him and is the epitome of the heroic male.”
“Melissa, the sorceress, is flexibly sung by Francesca Chiejina...”
John Groves, London Theatre One ****
Amadigi tours the UK until 17 November with further performances in Hexham, York, Poole, Great Malvern, Leamington Spa, Bradford-on-Avon, Saffron Walden, Ulverston, Tunbridge Wells, Snape Maltings and Exeter. Read more about the production here.
Watch Francesca Chiejina sing Melissa’s aria ‘Ah! Spietato’ here.
Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith