Emily White ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Writer
The Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF) presented Handel’s first opera, Almira, at the Cutler Majestic Theatre this week. Handel wrote Almira when he was just nineteen, when a well-known composer in his time backed out on the piece at the last minute. He was merely given the title to work with. Though the piece is not considered one of Handel’s best works, because he wrote it so early in his career it stands as a testament to the scope of his talent. It is nearly four hours long, but it doesn’t cease to entertain.
This production of Almira is a sumptuous period presentation, complete with beautiful traditional garb and an amazing set, made up of several beautifully painted illusionistic perspective backdrops, causing the entire production to feel like a moving Rococo painting from the 16th century. The opera is written in several languages, primarily German and Italian, and subtitles in English appear at the top of the stage, giving the production the impression of a high-class foreign film. Aside from these subtitles, the production transports the audience entirely to a different time.
Almira tells the story of the title character, a newly crowned Spanish queen, and her quest to marry the man she loves, Fernando, although he is not of her rank, and the romantic trials and tribulations of the court around her. Amanda Forsythe steals the show as the feisty Edilia, a princess of the court, with her fiery delivery of songs of revenge, lust, and woe. A newly added dance ensemble, portraying courtly attendants to the main characters, supports the atmosphere in a visceral way. Always alert and interested, they sometimes stole the scenes from the singers they backed up. As a whole, the ensemble was quite in tune with each other, and kept the opera moving despite its length. There was never a dull or still moment in this production.
If you have never seen an opera, Almira is a great introduction to the art form. Not quite a tragedy or a comedy, it is a lighthearted romance with relatable themes of love, lust, and power for audiences of all ages. Each singer is highly talented and highly engaging and so is each individual in the dance ensemble. Handel’s music is lovely and lively, and exudes the youth and exuberance of a charming nineteen-year-old, but also the maturity of a talented composer. If you are a fan of opera, this is a great chance to see a rarely performed piece of work by a well-known composer, artfully executed.