Steffani Niobe, Regina di Tebe, Royal Opera House - Reviews - Classical - The Independent

Steffani Niobe, Regina di Tebe, Royal Opera House

4.00

Agostino Steffani (who?) may have been consigned to a footnote in musical history but here's why he was such a big deal in the realm of 17th century courtly drama. He wrote extravagantly – Niobe was the first of his operas where the aria count fell below 60 (the great and the good always had time on their hands) – and he wrote with feverish theatrical daring. The overture to Niobe begins benignly with well-regulated pomp and circumstance but suddenly we are assailed by the clatter of martial trumpets and drums (sounding here from the highest balcony) wilfully designed to cut across the courtly processional as if at all costs to stop it progress. Shock-horror - and the curtain has not yet risen.

Most of Steffani's theatrical success was in Germany and there's no question that much of Niobe's allure lies in its dynamic synthesis of the Italianate (he was a contemporary of Corelli) and the boisterously Germanic. It's as if many of the opera's numbers serve as arias and dances at one and the same time with raucous percussion invariably spicing up the rhythms. The Balthasar Neumann Ensemble under Thomas Hengelbrock really rock – and I mean that almost literally.

The plotting – a predictably potent brew of the historical and mythological, of gods, mortals, and devilish sorcery – is primed for spectacle and special effects and Lukas Hemleb's newly adapted 2008 production wittily apes old stage conventions in a highly contemporary way. The devious Poliferno (Alastair Miles), done up like a fallen angel, transports his charge Creonte (Iestyn Davies) via the underworld in a not quite all-singing, all dancing, blob of ectoplasm replete with gloopy sound effects. A giant crystal ball signals the moment where Anfione, King of Thebes, is led to believe he belongs among the stars and as he ascends to the firmament we are dazzled by a zillion points of light.

Enjoying the lion's share of the opera's best numbers – strange, beautiful forerunners of Handel's most haunting creations - male soprano Jacek Laszczkowski (Anfione) thrills with his astonishing power at the top of the voice (the middle comes and goes a little but this is an exciting approximation of what the castrato could do); and the delectable Veronique Gens (Niobe) is seductive even when turning to stone. One of the score’s highlights is her beautiful aria in duetto with the elegant Iestyn Davies not so discreetly disguised as Mars.

In this show Niobe's bubble bursts quite literally – but that would be telling. Catch it now – you may never get another chance.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week