Partenope's setting is the court of the titular queen, where all present at the court (mostly princes of other places) are in love with her. She's a flirtatious woman, but has fallen in
The lyrics and plotting are frequently hilarious. One bit of recitative dialogue early on goes something like this. The characters have been sitting around discussing how wonderful Partenope is for a while when one of them says, "Oh, I totally forgot to mention it. Our city is being besieged by a dangerous aggressor. He's outside the city walls as we speak." And it's a surprise to everyone. The production really played with the silliness of it all, visually punning on aspects of it to find humor where there isn't any written in. In one memorable moment, Arsace and Eurimene/Rosmira are duetting about her torment of him. He sings a line something like "When will it ever end?" over and over while she continues, beginning, as he does, to unroll a roll of out-of-sight toilet paper. He ends up shut up in the room and, when we next see him, he's all but invisible under the mountain of toilet paper. It was that sort of a production. (Fortunately, while it flirted quite literally with toilet humor, it did not descend too far in that direction.)
The costuming and set are all 1920s. It took me about ten minutes to settling into this visual for an early eighteenth century opera. It worked (with the transient exception of the gas masks) because the production played with elements of the decade consciously and throughout. There were brief moments of 1920s dancing - the Charleston, for example - which are really quite silly when done to eighteenth century music. The city's aggressor, Emilio, turns up as a moderately flamboyant photographer/artist whose concluding aria is sung while dressed as kilted swami. "Warfare" is conducted through flung cocktails and Road to Perdition-like photography sequences.
The modern English translation of the Italian opera added to the off-kilterness of it all, with interjections like "Crickey!" punctuating otherwise straightforward interactions. The singers were gloriously talented; which is particularly good since the production, including intermissions, was the better part of four hours long.
I would recommend you go see it, but I saw the last of the ENO's six productions for the year, so you're out of luck.
Partenope Rosemary Joshua; Rosmira Patricia Bardon; Arsace Christine Rice; Armindo lestyn Davies; Emilio John Mark Ainsley; Ormonte James Gower
Conductor Christian Curnyn; Director Christopher Alden; Designer Andrew Lieberman; Costume Designer Jon Morrell; Lighting Designer Adam Silverman, Co-director Peter Littlefield; Translation Amanda Holden
A more serious and thorough review by someone who bought the program, unlike me.