English Touring Opera at Saffron Hall: Ulysses Homecoming achieves overwhelming welcome

ETO Ulysses Homecoming

ETO Ulysses Homecoming - Credit: Archant

English Touring Opera made its debut at Saffron Hall on Wednesday night (November 2) and gave a superb performance as both singers and actors, bringing rapturous applause that went on for several curtain calls.

The company’s first production at the venue, sung in English, was Ulysses Homecoming by Monteverdi, an early opera, written in 1640.

This is a retelling of the second half of the Odyssey, set in Ithaca where Ulysses is about to return to his faithful wife, Penelope who has waited 20 years for her husband.

While all around try to persuade her that Ulysses is surely dead, her house is filled with suitors, conveniently, one a bass-baritone, (Stupendous Andrew Slater who also plays Time and Neptune) one a tenor (Tremendous Robert Anthony Gardiner who also plays Fortune) and one a countertenor, (Luminescent Clint van der Linde also singing Human Frailty and Ericlea, Penelope’s nurse.)

Ulysses (Masterful Benedict Nelson) returns disguised as a beggar, even Penelope doesn’t recognise him. But a competition is set up for her hand in marriage that only he can win.

The suitors must all string Ulysses’ great bow and fire it. Only our hero can complete the task and manages to kill his rivals with his arrows while he’s at it.

The performances are exemplary. Penelope (Carolyn Dobbin) really makes you feel the two decades that she - as an innocent woman she is at great pains to point out - has been waiting for her valiant husband to return from the Trojan Wars – all caused by that shameful Helen.

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When her long-lost son, Telemachus (Charming Nick Pritchard) also returns, they get affectionate chuckles from the audience when she covers him with lots of little pecks of kisses.

Then he horrifies her by literally singing Helen’s praises – actually mum, she’s stunning.

There are no weak links in this magnificent cast of opera singers who act with an unforgettable passion: It is also a privilege to hear the voices of John-Colyn Gyeantey as the servant Eumaeus, Katie Bray as Minerva, goddess of cunning, Martha Jones as Love and Melanto Penelope’s maid, and Adam Player as Irus the suitor’s minion.

English Touring Opera’s Saffron Hall programme continued with Cavalli’s La Calisto on Thursday, November 3. Tonight (Friday, November 4) Handel’s Xerxes and tomorrow (Saturday, November 5) Bach’s St John Passion joined by three choirs: The Granta Chorale, Alec Hunter Academy Choir and Anglia Ruskin Chamber Choir.