BERENICE | London, Royal Opera House, Linbury Theatre

282 years after its Covent Garden premier in 1731, Handel’s Berenice returns to the Royal Opera House, in Adele Thomas’s witty, female-led, neo-Baroque production, packed to the rafters with comedy and caprice.

On entry into the refurbished 406-seater Linbury Theatre, we are transported not so much into ancient Egypt, as an Alice-in-Wonderland 18th century confection. A giant green and purple semicircular chaise dominates the space. Atop it preen powdered dandies and rouged divas, sporting dusty wigs, striped stockings and floral frocks (production designed by Hannah Clark).

London Handel Festival Musical Director, Laurence Cummings, conducts from the harpsichord with sensitivity, as The London Handel Orchestra dexterously swoops from the genteel to the wild and stormy. The continuo plays live on stage, impressively attired. However, what starts genteel quickly turns transgressive, with stage action that turns occasionally violent, necessitating some expertly timed ducks and dives from an seemingly unflappable lutenist (Jonas Nordberg).

The performances themselves are uniformly well crafted, from the foppish pratfalls of countertenor Patrick Terry’s Arsace to the imperious poise of Claire Booth’s full-throated Berenice. What we lose in castrati, we gain in Jacqueline Stucker’s beautifully controlled “trouser-role” Alessandro. All the performers have excellent diction, which allows Selma Dimitrijevic’s bold new English translation to shine through, unaided by subtitles — the effect is liberating.

The opera itself contains some neglected musical gems: comic set-pieces like ‘Consider The Bee’ has orchestra and performers buzzing away in full onomatopoeic frisson, to obvious appreciation from the stalls. Adele Thomas’ Berenice is a confident and theatrical revival that will surely set the standard for the future.

Berenice runs until 7 April 2019.

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