On Stage: Richard The Lionheart

So I’m sitting on the couch watching — waitaminnit…let’s just skip the intro this week and go straight to the “and so it was…”

And so it was that we made our way once again to the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ production of George Frideric Handel’s “Richard the Lionheart.” It would be our last show of the season, as we unfortunately had to miss “Emmeline.” Ask Christine if it was any good.

Based on my many years of forced viewings of Shakespeare plays, I had a pretty good idea of what “Richard the Lionheart” would be like: cast of dozens I can’t keep straight, lots of palace intrigue that I can’t keep straight, a love story, brief bits of action, lots of talking I can’t understand, people die.

I already knew it would be long. The program informed me it would run 3 hours, 10 minutes with two intermissions. Sigh. If only I could’ve taken that afternoon nap.

Turns out I was wrong. The opera version of British history winds up being a lot like, well, most opera. It’s all centered around a big love story in which people are madly in love with people they haven’t met. There’s a lot of people pretending to be people they are not. A lot of scheming. A little bit of action. A lot of singing.

richardmain-imageCostanza (Susannah Biller), is betrothed to King Richard (Tim Mead). They are madly in love though they’ve never met. She winds up shipwrecked on the island of Isacio (Brandon Cedel). Richard shows up and wants Costanza. Isacio figures, since the lovers have never met, to palm off his own daughter Pulcheria (Devon Guthrie) on to the king so he can have an in with the royal family. Pulcheria’s betrothed Oronte (Tai Oney) blows up the plan, Richard and Costanza are united, they sing a lovely duet. The end.

Or, that’s how my version ended. One intermission, two-hour run time, everybody in bed at a decent hour. Handel, however, had other plans. The third act begins with Isacio kidnapping Costanza (even though he earlier agreed to let her go with Richard) and Richard declaring war and a lot more singing and a little fighting.

This was an impressive production. The music was lovely, the cast was small and the story easy to follow, everyone sang very well. Special kudos to the set designer, Jean-Marc Puissant, who did a really impressive job creating a variety of large set pieces using flags and what seemed to be drift wood.

Which brings us to our final point of some contention (at least for me): Tim Mead. This man looks like you would think King Richard would look. His voice is incredible. He gave his all in several difficult arias. He can sustain a note like nobody’s business. His singing with Susannah Biller at the end of Act 2 was so beautiful The Wife was teary-eyed when the lights came up.

In short: He’s very good.

But… he’s a countertenor (defined: a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to that of the female contralto or mezzo-soprano voice types). In other words, he sounds like a girl.

Which is fine, except when I think Richard The Lionheart, King of England, I don’t think falsetto. I think low, manly, bass. It’s hard to take a man seriously who’s singing about vengeance and war and battle when he’s doing so in a high register.

But he is very, very good.

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