Downstairs from the Royal Opera House, the Linbury Theatre, since its expansion and refurbishment a few years ago, has developed a character of its own as an ideal venue for productions that are too small for the Opera House itself or as a showcase for young talent who will surely be the stars of tomorrow. The current production of an almost-forgotten opera by Handel is an excellent example.

The cast consists almost entirely of members of the Jette Parker Artists Programme, which takes only the best young performers from around the world and trains them to the highest professional standards.

Arminio is a curious work. It had its premiere at the Royal Opera House in 1737 but was not well received and was taken off after a handful of performances.

The music, as always in Handel’s many operas, is sublime but the plot leaves a great deal to be desired.

Set at a time of great conflict between the forces of the Roman Empire and the Germanic people, it centres on the figure of Arminius, a Germanic officer trained by the Roman army who left them to lead his own forces to a great victory over the Romans at the Battle of the Teuroburg Forest in 9AD.

That much is history, but the tale spun by Handel’s librettist adds several love triangles, disloyalties, treachery, death sentences and last-minute reprieves from disaster to create operatic mischief and mayhem.

In addition to Handel’s music, there are two main features that make this well worth seeing: the orchestra and the exceptionally talented singers.

Vigorously but sensitively conducted by André Callegaro, the Early Opera Company Orchestra, playing on period instruments, bring an authentic spirit to the music while the singers all take this glorious opportunity to display their talents and show how much they have learned from their training.

The title role of Arminio is taken by mezzo-soprano Gabrielė Kupšytė, who brings a delightfully tender voice to a role that must in the original opera have been played by a male castrato singer.

Arminio’s loyal wife Tusnelda is also beautifully sung by Sarah Dufresne, with great spirit when having to repulse the advances of the Roman General Varo (Michael Gibson). Meanwhile, Tusnelda’s brother Sigismondo (Isabelle Peters) has revealed Arminio’s plans to their father, the Roman political leader Segeste (Korean baritone Josef Jeongmeen Ahn).

Meanwhile, Sigismondo is in love with Arminio’s sister Ramise (Kamilla Dunstan) so with almost everyone in love with someone on the other side, emotional panic abounds. Kamilla Dunstan and Josef Jeongmeen Ahn both give gloriously energetic performances, so it is all great though unbelievable fun.

The production, however, does not match the talents of the performers.

Modern military uniforms and sub-machine guns do not fit comfortably into the Roman empire, and the set design, consisting mainly of an office and a bedroom being used as a military prison, also looks incongruous.

There was also too often nothing happening on stage, leaving a feeling of rigidity about the production.

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