Hans Werner Henze's final opera, Phaedra, was given a new lease of life by director Neo Naamat at the Royal Opera House.
The opera, originally performed in 2007 is a 're-imagining the classical story of Phaedra and Hippolytus'. Without giving away too many spoilers: the opera follows Phaedra (Hongni Wu), as her desire for her step-son Hippolytus (Filipe Manu) is rejected, resulting in her falsely accusing him of rape. The drama unfolds as the consequences of Phaedra's accusation are realised, culminating in a dramatic, engaging presentation of love, revenge and mortality.
Mezzo-Soprano Hongni Wu is phenomenal in the titular role, her portrayal of Phaedra treading the line between seductive and sociopathic. Tenor Filipe Manu makes his Royal Opera Debut in the part of Hippolytus, with a strong and accomplished performance.
The costumes were as eccentric and accomplished as the opera's plot blending cutting, modern designs with classic Greek mythological figures; the Minotaur’s (Michael Mofidian) ensemble was particularly captivating, the harsh metallic tones used to create the boar's head resonating with the singer’s bass-baritone range.
While Phaedra is renowned for its complex plotline, the sharp direction and performance on display in the Linbury theatre made sure to keep the audience's attention. At once, the audience is transported by Edmund Whitehead's careful conducting of the Southbank Sinfonia through ancient Greek myth into an introspective look into identity and morality that feels perceptively modern. Although this opera is on the shorter side, running for an hour and thirty minutes, it packs a weighty punch.
Phaedra ran until 20th May 2019, for more Royal Opera House performances and information, click here.