Cleopatra in the wings, ETO takes opera to people

Wed Nov 18, 2009 2:29pm EST
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By Michael Roddy

MALVERN, England (Reuters) - Ken Allcock, 66, had never seen an opera and his wife Eileen hadn't been in about 50 years, but both were enchanted by Handel's "Tolomeo," brought to their hometown of Malvern by English Touring Opera.

"It's very easy to listen to," Eileen Allcock, a retired teacher, remarked after the first act of the dark, 1728 opus by the German-born Baroque composer George Friedrich Handel.

One of his more obscure works, "Tolomeo" is set in Cyprus and is all about lust, feuding, despair and treachery among the Egyptian royal family -- with the ghost of a lady named Cleopatra lurking in the background.

"I'm surprised it isn't more popular...though it is a bit depressing," Ken Allcock, who worked for 30 years in construction before becoming a community disputes counselor and who also helps out with the local scouts, said.

Handel spent most of his life in England and wrote more than 40 operas, plus a tuneful ditty called "The Messiah" that has had more performances, especially around Christmas, than that most popular of modern musicals, "Phantom of the Opera."

The link between Handel and "Phantom" is not far-fetched since Handel has been described as the Andrew Lloyd Webber of his day -- an immensely prolific composer who turned out hit after hit, be it opera, oratorio or music for special occasions.

His "Zadok the Priest," written for the coronation of George II in 1727, has been played at every coronation since and, in a reworked version, has become the theme music for UEFA soccer.

Handel was a one-man Tin Pan Alley, a tunesmith, and what worked in the mid-1700s still works today.   Continued...