Tolomeo, Royal College Of Music, London Handel Festival

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The Independent Culture

Her entrance - as played by Katherine Manley - immediately raises the temperature of this co-production between English Touring Opera (who'll be launching their Autumn Baroque Festival with it), the Royal College of Music and the London Handel Festival. Manley, whose bright, vibrant sound and intense engagement portend a very promising career, is still at the College. But she will be joining the professional cast when James Conway's productiongoes on the road.

But for now the cast - in this most testing of all repertoire - is entirely non-professional. Talent scouts take note - there are students here to be watched closely. One of the evening's highlights came with the scene where Seleuce is discovered searching forlornly for Tolomeo. Conway's direction nailed it with Tolomeo framed in the upstage doorway. When Handel then took our breath away with the echo of the husband's equally forlorn plaint, the visual and aural effect was most telling. Patricia Orr's Tolomeo blended beautifully with Manley but she needs to work on her coloratura and keep the intonation focused.

The evening's other star-in-the-making was countertenor Christopher Ainslie as Alessandro. The lovely, dusky quality of his sound was allied to real musicality. The warmth of his presence on stage will prove a real asset in the future. As will the sonorous bass-baritone of Kostas Smoriginas (Araspe) - even if he did sound like he really wanted to sing Verdi. As Elisa, Laura Mitchell curdled an innate charm with fearlessness in her scornful set-piece. And Laurence Cummings' vigorous direction gave all the necessary rhythmic uplift. Myself included.

The Baroque Festival tour launches in October (www.englishtouringopera.org.uk)

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