Admeto Re’di Tessaglia
This article is from 2009.
Getting a handle on Handel
Scorned lovers, jealous tantrums and furious outbursts are all in a day’s work for conductor Nicholas McGegan. As he explains, ‘There’s not a great deal of difference between opera and soap opera – they are all about love, jealously and ambition.’ Admeto re di Tessaglia, which McGegan is conducting at the EIF, is no different.
Alceste returns from Hades to find that in her absence her husband, King Admeto, has fallen in love with another woman, Antigona. Forced to decide if she loves him enough to sacrifice herself, Alceste embarks on an emotional journey worthy of the Corrie scriptwriters, accompanied by her spirit-ghost played by the Butoh dancer Tadashi Endo.
‘It’s an absolute masterpiece as a piece of music,’ says McGegan. ‘And the director, Doris Dorrie, has an extraordinary eye when it comes to creating beautiful pictures and for telling the story very simply on stage.’
Dorrie is best-known as an award-winning filmmaker, producer and author. In Admeto, she has used her filmmaker’s eye to create a striking re-imagining of Handel’s classic, reminiscent visually of Japan’s highly-stylised kabuki theatre. It transplants the action from ancient Greece to the hierarchical world of the Japanese samurai and is populated by dancers dressed as ghosts, sheep and demons.
Isn’t McGegan worried that what is happening onstage will overshadow what he and the orchestra are doing? ‘There is no danger of that. The music is so simple and effective. They complement each other perfectly.’
Though he has conducted more Handel than most – including 23 of the composer’s 40 operas – McGegan says he is constantly making new discoveries in the music. ‘It is beautiful, touching and sometimes quite funny. He’s a composer with so much heart. He wrote knockout tunes.’
McGegan confesses that, while he is delighted with what Dorrie has done, the inclusion of the dancers has curtailed his fun. ‘I’ve been looking forward to revisiting some of my favourite restaurants in Edinburgh and Glasgow but then there we are in the orchestra watching the dancers and you see how fit and trim they are. Suddenly you think “wow, no haggis and tatties for us after all”.’
Festival Theatre, 473 2000, 28 & 29, 31 Aug, 7.15pm, £14–£64.