San Francisco Opera brings back Handel’s comic opera ‘Partenope’

Scene from Handel’s ‘Partenope’

As part of its 2024 Summer Season, San Francisco Opera once more stages George Frideric Handel’s first comic opera, Partenope. Last seen on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House in 2014, this Olivier Award-winning production by Christopher Alden is co-produced by English National Opera and Opera Australia, and led by conductor Christopher Moulds.

Carlo Vistoli as Arsace and Julie Fuchs in the title role in Handel’s ‘Partenope’

Partenope stars French soprano Julie Fuchs, in her American debut, in the title role of Partenope – originally the first queen of Naples – who is in love with Arsace. Italian countertenor Carlo Vitolo makes his US stage debut as Arsace, one of Partenope’s four hopeful suitors. The other three are sung by countertenor Nicholas Tamagna as Armindo, tenor Alek Shrader as Emilio, the military general, and baritone Hadleigh Adams as Ormonte. Argentinian mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack takes the role of Rosmira, former betrothed of Arsace.

Handel wrote his three-act opera in 1730, to an anonymous libretto adapted from that of Silvio Stampiglia, Italian poet, librettist and founder member of the Accademia dell’Arcadia. It premiered at the King’s Theatre in London on February 24, 1730.

Daniela Mack as Rosmira and Carlo Vistoli as Arsace in Handel’s ‘Partenope’

In this production, the action has been brought forward from the mythical founding of Naples to a 1920s Parisian salon, where Partenope is the most eligible lady in town, with more suitors than she can manage, each of whom is keen to have her hand in marriage. Described by San Francisco Opera as “….. a witty and sexy staging of Handel’s romantic comedy”, the opera tells of the merry-go-round of deception and cross-dressing which follows, leading The Mercury News to write that Alden’s staging “…. turns the opera’s gender-bending plot into a nonstop parade of visual and vocal delights”.

Julie Fuchs sings the role of Partenope, the Parisian salon hostess whose gatherings are frequented by social elites and Surrealist artists. Described by Diapason as having “A voluptuous timbre and virtuosic coloratura”, Ms Fuchs has a repertoire which ranges from Baroque to contemporary music, with a special focus on Mozart and bel canto heroines. Her 2023-24 season began with a return to the Opéra National de Paris as Norina in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, followed by her role debut as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Teatro Real in Madrid.

Julie Fuchs in the title role in Handel’s ‘Partenope’

Specialising in Baroque music, Carlo Vistoli is regarded as one of the leading Italian countertenors of his generation. He has won acclaim throughout Europe and Australia with what Parterre describes as his “rounded, resonant Italianate sound and elegant phrasing” in the works of Gluck, Cavalli, Mozart and especially Handel. After these performances with San Francisco Opera, he will perform in Giulio Cesare in Egitto at Wiener Staatsoper, where he will also appear with Les Musiciens du Prince Monaco.

Daniela Mack – who takes the role of Rosmira, the estranged lover of Arsace who appears in disguise to win him back – is a graduate of the Merola Opera Program and a former SF Opera Adler Fellow. She appeared in San Francisco Opera’s 2014 production of Partenope. Prior to that, Ms Mack was seen at the War Memorial Opera House as Frida Kahlo in the Company’s premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank and Nilo Cruz’s El último sueño de Frida y Diego. Earlier this year, she appeared in the Met Opera’s production of the John Adams Oratorio El Niño and in Handel’s Alcina at Teatro Maestranza in Seville.

Nicholas Tamagna as Armindo in Handel’s ‘Partenope’

Nicholas Tamagna, making his Company debut as Armindo, is a Baroque specialist and frequent interpreter of the Handelian repertoire, including appearances at the Handel Festivals in Halle an der Saale, Göttingen and at the Badisches Staatstheater in Karlsruhe. He has sung Narciso in Handel’s Agrippina at the Met Opera, has made number of international appearances and has sung roles in operas by Vivaldi, Hasse and Handel on tour in Greece, Russia, France, and Germany with the baroque specialist orchestra Armonia Atenea.
 
 Alek Schrader is Emilio, the military general and Prince of Cumae, who courts Partenope, and who is portrayed in this staging as an avatar of Surrealist photographer Man Ray. A graduate of San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellowship Program, he sang the same role in San Francisco Opera’s 2014 production of Partenope, following which he was described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “a vocal dynamo”. He has sung the roles of Jago in Rossini’s Otello, Septimus in Handel’s Theodora and Dan White in Stewart Wallace’s Harvey Milk.

Julie Fuchs as Partenope and Alek Shrader as Emilio in Handel’s ‘Partenope’

Hadleigh Adams is another graduate of the Merola Opera Program and a former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, whose voice is described by Limelight Magazine as a “burnished baritone”. He has appeared in a wide repertoire with San Francisco Opera, including works by Britten, Offenbach, Poulenc, Puccini, Rossini and Verdi, and in the world premieres of Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Tobias Picker’s Dolores Claiborne and John Adams’ Antony and Cleopatra.
 
Christopher Moulds, an early music expert known for his interpretations of the operas of Monteverdi, Cavalli, Purcell, Handel and Mozart, leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in five performances of Partenope between June 15 and 28, with a livestream on June 23. Handel’s Partenope is sung in Italian with English supertitles. Further information and details of ticketing can be found on the San Francisco Opera website.

Information sourced from

San Francisco Opera program notes

Artists’ websites

All photos © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

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