The plot of Handel?s Flavio is complicated enough without all the visual detritus added by the Early Opera Company in its production which opened the Lichfield Festival on Thursday.
There were various housekeeping difficulties, some of them occasioned by events in London, but none of these could be used as an excuse for the directorial irritations which detracted big-time from what was basically an impressive musical delivery of this lively score under Christian Curnyn.
Netia Jones seemed unable to trust Handel?s vivid music to deliver the inner thoughts and motivations of his tiny cast in this tale of love, power and political ambition. So with every phrase, every cadence, she inflicted upon us back-projections which regaled us with visions of domestic bliss, idyllic gardens, children?s match-stick men, Scalextric and whatever else - and which drew our attention away from musical values.
The evening had begun promisingly, with baroque stylised gestures from one of the pairs of lovers, and I mentally congratulated Jones for her delving into period style - until it emerged she was using this only as a send-up, the first of a fistful of jokey misfirings. Another was the initial appearance of Flavio, the king who must have his way in all things, in inflated cartoon-type clothes which made him look like Santa crossed with one of the Seven Dwarves.
Beneath all this were some fine musical performances, with Claire Booth a touching Emilia, and countertenors Andrew Radley and Stephen Wallace projecting with much clarity as Flavio and the tragic Guido respectively.
Curnyn?s neat little orchestra was placed onstage, with the long theorbo finger-board obscuring some of the view - another example of the visual clutter which put Handel in the shade.