Exeter Northcott hosts the English Touring Opera for epic Handelfest

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To mark the 250th anniversary of Handel’s death, English Touring Opera are bringing Europe’s largest festival of Handel opera to Exeter Northcott. Five fully-staged Handel productions, and a comprehensive series of recitals, talks and masterclasses, make this the Handel event of the year.

The five operas span the complete range of Handel’s subject and style. Love, tragedy and revenge are explored in different guises from comedy to mythology, each of them linked by Handel’s divine music.

Flavio (Tuesday, November 3) is a comedy full of youthful exuberance, starting with a gruesome knife fight and ending with a jubilant double wedding.

Teseo (Wednesday, November 4) is a depiction of passion, in all its forms.

In Tolomeo (Thursday, November 5), we see a character overcome every possible trial because of his belief in humanity, while in Ariodante (Friday, November 6), a family is shattered when a young girl is cast out because of false rumours.

Alcina (Saturday, November 7) is a swashbuckling drama with a score full of youthful brilliance. These operas were written in England, for English theatres, at a time where London was the centre of the operatic world, boasting the best musical talent around.

James Conway, general director of English Touring Opera, told Arts+Culture: “ETO’s Handelfest is a very exciting project: to stage five operas in five nights and then tour them is unprecedented, but it’s a fantastic way to celebrate the Handel anniversary and showcase a high point in the history of British opera.

“As always at ETO we have some extraordinary talent working with us in these productions and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our 30th anniversary than bringing together that talent in an ambitious project to mark a titan of British opera.”

On Thursday, November 5, Exeter Northcott is teaming up with Arts Council England, South West to present Digital Fireworks, an audio-visual celebration of Handel after the performance of Tolomeo. Set to an arrangement of Handel’s Music For The Royal Fireworks performed by Exeter University students, the university’s director of Music Marion Wood will project an array of images in the Exeter Northcott café bar in this spectacular event.

Arts Council England, South West Executive Director Chris Humphrey said: “We’re delighted that English Touring Opera are bringing Handelfest to Exeter Northcott.

“This promises to be a major highlight in the Handel 250 celebrations and strongly supports our ambition of great art for everyone.

“The programme of talks and events will give more people an opportunity to find out about the operas and improve their own musical skills. We also hope that the Digital Fireworks event will introduce a new audience to Handel.”

ETO have cast two talented young singers, both from Exeter, to play the parts of Medea’s children in Teseo. Christina Smith, 12, and Katy Orford, 13 are currently practising for their operatic debuts on the big stage on the Wednesdy, November 4. The choir singing in the same production is Exeter University Choir, directed by Marion Wood.

ETO’s educational workshops, featuring members of the main cast and orchestra, are being presented in local Exeter schools. ‘In the Belly of the Horse’, the third part in a brand-new mythological opera trilogy for primary schools (composed by Rachael Leach), is being hosted at Newton Poppleford Primary School, Whimple Primary School, and Sidmouth Primary School (November 3 and 4). ‘According to Handel’, a composition workshop for 13-18 year olds, will take place in Tiverton High School and St Peter’s CofE Secondary School, Exeter (November 4 and 5).

Pre-performance talks take place before each show at 6.30pm at Exeter Northcott

• The shows take place at the Exeter Northcott, Exeter, from Tuesday, November 3 to Saturday, November 7 at 7.30pm Tickets: Tuesday to Thursday £17 to £27. Friday and Saturday £17 to £30, half price concessions. Book five shows get 25% off. Book three shows get 15% off. Box Office:  01392 493493 Pop along to the Exeter Northcott website from more

Special Events
Tue 3 November Historical society meeting hosted by Professor
Jeremy Black, 5.30pm Exeter University

Wed 4 November Masterclass with Jonathan Peter Kenny
2pm, Great Hall, Exeter University

Thu 5 November Digital Fireworks, 9.45 pm.
Theatre Foyer

Fri 6 November  Florid Style, an Illustrated Recital
1pm Exeter Library

Sat 7 November  Messiah open rehearsal
1.30pm, Exeter University
Festival Feedback with members of the company
4.30pm, Exeter Northcott café bar

(images: top Alcina, bottom Tolomeo, courtesy of the English Touring Opera)