Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf

Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.

San Diego Opera Presents a Tragic Madama Butterfly

On April 16, 2016, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s sixth opera, Madama Butterfly, in an intriguing production by Garnett Bruce. Roberto Oswald’s scenery included the usual Japanese styled house with many sliding doors and walls. On either side, however, were blooming cherry trees with rough trunks and gnarled branches that looked as though they had been growing on the property for a hundred years.

Simon Rattle conducts Tristan und Isolde

New Co-Production Tristan und Isolde with Metropolitan: Simon Rattle and Westbroek electrify Treliński’s Opera-Noir.

San Jose’s Smooth Streetcar Ride

In an operatic world crowded with sure-fire bread and butter repertoire, Opera San Jose has boldly chosen to lavish a new production on a dark horse, Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

Roméo et Juliette: Dutch National Opera and Ballet seal merger with leaden Berlioz

Choral symphony, oratorio, symphonic poem — Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette does not fit into any mould. It has the potential to work as an opera-ballet, but incoherent storytelling and uninspired conducting undermined this production.

Donizetti : Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera House

When Kasper Holten took the precaution of pre-warning ticket-holders that the Royal Opera House’s new production of Lucia di Lammermoor featured scene portraying ‘sexual acts’ and ‘violence’, one assumed that he was aiming to avert a re-run of the jeering and hectoring that accompanied last season’s Guillaume Tell. He even went so far as to offer concerned patrons a refund.

Five Reviews of Regina at Maryland Opera Studio

These are five very different reviews by students at the University of Maryland on its Opera Studio production of Regina — an interesting, informative and entertaining read . . .

Three Cheers for the English Touring Opera

‘Remember me, the one who is Pia;/ Siena made me, Maremma undid me.’ The speaker is Pia de’ Tolomei. She appears in a brief episode of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Purgatorio V, 130-136) which was the source for Gaetano Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei - by way of Bartolomeo Sestini’s verse-novella of 1825.

Andriessen's De Materie at the Park Avenue Armory

"The large measure of formalism which forms the basis of De Materie does not in itself offer any guarantee that the work will be beautiful," says Dutch composer Louis Andriessen of his four-movement opera.

Falstaff Makes a Big Splash in Phoenix

On April 1, 2016, Arizona Opera presented Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) and Arrigo Boito (1842-1918) in Phoenix. Although Boito based most of his libretto on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, he used material from Henry IV as well. Verdi wrote the music when he was close to the age of eighty. He was concerned about his ability at that advanced age, but he was immensely pleased with Boito’s text and decided to compose his second comedy, despite the fact that his first, Un giorno di regno, had not been successful.

Svadba in San Francisco

The brand new SF Opera Lab opened last month with artist William Kentridge’s staged Schubert Winterreise. Its second production just now, Svadba-Wedding — an a cappella opera for six female voices — unabashedly exposes the space in a different, non-theatrical configuration.

Benvenuto Cellini in Rome

One may think of Tosca as the most Roman of all operas, after all it has been performed at the Teatro Costanzi (Rome’s opera house) well over a thousand times since 1900. Though equally, maybe even more Roman is Hector Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini that has had only a dozen or so performances in Rome since 1838.

Handel : Elpidia - Opera Settecento

Roll up! A new opera by Handel is to be performed, L’Elpidia overo li rivali generosi. It is based upon a libretto by Apostolo Zeno with music by Leonardo Vinci - excepting a couple of arias by Giuseppe Orlandini and, additionally, two from Antonio Lotti’s Teofane (which the star bass, Giuseppe Maria Boschi , on bringing with him from the Dresden production of 1719).

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Vesselina Kasarova {Photo by Marco Borggreve/Sony BMG]
06 Dec 2010

Handel’s Alcina at Barbican Centre, London

The Barbican’s Great Performers season often acts as a receiving house for continental opera productions, thus giving us in London a chance to hear interesting performances without actually having to travel.

George Frederick Handel: Alcina (HWV 34)

Inga Kalna: Alcina, Vesselina Kasarova: Ruggerio, Romina Basso: Bradamante, Veronica Cangemi: Morgana, Benjamin Bruns: Oronte, Luca Tittoto: Melissa, Shintaro Nakajima: Oberto, Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble. Mark Minkowski, conductor. 4th December 2010, Barbican Hall, London.

Above: Vesselina Kasarova {Photo by Marco Borggreve/Sony BMG]

 

The drawback, of course, is that the works are presented in concert rather than staged. On Saturday 4th December, Mark Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble appeared on the final leg of a short tour performing Handel’s Alcina in concert. This tour followed performances at the Vienna State Opera, staged by Adrian Noble. Noble chose to set the opera in the context of the historical Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who lived some 40 years after the premiere of Handel’s opera, so perhaps seeing the work in concert wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

In fact, Minkowski and his cast gave us a highly dramatic concert reading, with one exception all the cast were off the book and made the correct entrances and exits. Not only that, but whilst sitting on stage at the side they continued to react to what was going on. The result was a vivid and highly involving presentation of Handel’s opera and, for me, an almost ideal way to experience opera seria without having a director trying to translate it for me into contemporary dramatic terms.

There had been notices of cast changes well before the date of the concert, with Romina Basso apparently taking over the role of Bradamante only for the concert performances. Basso did use a score, but for much of the time she barely looked at it and her performance was no less dramatic than the rest.

In the title role there was another, last minute, substitution; Latvian soprano Inga Kalna took over from an ailing Anja Harteros. Kalna had already replaced Harteros on an earlier leg of the tour and there was no sense that she was a stand in, she gave a beautifully rounded, fully dramatic account of this fascinating role.

The role of Alcina could easily have been another one of Handel’s bad girl sorceresses such as Medea in Teseo or Melissa in Amadigi di Gaula. But Handel seems to have fallen a little in love with his heroine and instead presents us with a tragic figure who is really in love and who loses her magic powers as a consequence.

Kalna had something of the rather old-fashioned grand manner on stage, perhaps no bad thing when it comes to establishing a character presence on the concert stage. Her voice is rich and her repertoire includes Verdi and Strauss. But she has a lovely focussed tone which meant that all of Handel’s passagework was taken neatly and expressively, her moments of dramatic fire were terrific. But the role is about much more than this and Kalna’s expressive spinning of a line meant that she captured exactly the feeling of melancholy which imbues much of Alcina’s music. So that ‘Ah, mio cor’ (her first aria in Act 2), had a brilliantly intense contrast between the lamenting of the opening section and the angry central section. Minkowski placed the single interval after this aria and it was a terrific way to close the first half.

But for me Kalna’s finest moment was the closing scene of Act 2, when Alcina discovers that she can no longer use her powers. A long recitative is followed by the aria ‘Ombre pallide’ in which Kalna spun lines of quiet intensity. Alcina isn’t actually the major role in the opera; Alcina gets 6 arias plus a trio whereas Ruggiero gets 8 arias plus a trio. But Handel’s sympathy for Alcina ensured that it is Alcina whom we focus on, and Kalna conveyed this with dignity and intensity.

The sign of a good performance of opera seria is not the technical ability to sing all the notes accurately, but the way the singers use the notes expressively. One of the big advantages of this performance was the way all the cast used Handel’s music to project character.

kalna_alcina_riga03.gifInga Kalna as Alcina (Riga) [Photo courtesy of the artist]

This was particularly true of Vesselina Kassarova who sang Ruggiero, Alcina’s love interest. Kassarova seemed to be on better form than I have heard recently, with a brilliant upper voice and lovely dark lower register. The drawback seemed to be that these two registers were not always neatly joined; there were occasional alarming gear shifts. But Kassarova knows how to use baroque music for expressive purposes, her notes really meant something. In the early part of the opera, where Ruggerio is under Alcina’s magic influence, her Ruggiero wasn’t a particularly nice person and we saw quite clearly how he was transformed when the magic was removed. Of course, ‘Sta nell’Ircana’ was a great tour de force, but Kassarova was as impressive in Ruggiero’s other arias. I have a confession though, by the end of the evening I was trying not to look at Kassarova as her excessive expressive mugging during her arias was off-putting.

Romina Basso as Bradamante was equally impressive. Whereas Kassarova was playing a man, Basso was playing a woman playing a man as Ruggiero’s fiancée Bradamante is disguised as her brother Ricciardo. Basso had a slightly lighter voice than Kassarova, providing a nice contrast, with a lovely neat way with Bradamante’s passagework. Her technical brilliance was shown off in Vorrei vendicarmi which Minkowski took at a terrific pace. The original singer of the role also specialised in singing male roles and this shows in the strong way Handel that presents her. Bradamante doesn’t get any of the opera’s big show pieces, but Handel gave her some fine music and Basso created a strong, fully rounded character.

Alcina’s sister Morgana is the soubrette role. For much of the opera she plays with love, discarding Oronte (Benjamin Bruns) when Ricciardo (Basso’s Bradamente in disguise) comes along; then at the end, returning to Oronte with a glorious outpouring of grief in ‘Credete al mio dolore’. Veronica Cangemi was a bit serious in the earlier parts of the opera, underplaying the soubrette; there was a danger of her being too like Alcina. There were times when her upper register seemed a little wayward, but Cangemi is a highly musical singer and her account of ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’, which closes Act 1, was simply brilliant.

Oronte isn’t a huge part, but it is an important one dramatically; in fact the role was written for the 21 year old John Beard who would go on to inspire some of the major tenor roles in Handel’s oratorios. In his first aria I thought that Benjamin Bruns, as Oronte, had a voice which was too big, rather too modern and forward placed for the role. But he settled in nicely and gave a beautifully shaded account of Oronte’s final aria, ‘Un momento di contento’.

The role of Oberto was a late addition to the opera. Handel’s source for the libretto (Broschi’s L’Isola di Alcina) didn’t have the role in at all. Oberto was specifically added for the boy soprano William Savage. Savage would carry on singing for Handel as an adult, but his baritone voice does not seem to have been as impressive as his treble one. Handel created 3 simple, direct arias for the character, all lightly accompanied. Usually the role is sung by a female soprano, but Minkowski used a boy treble, Shintaro Nakajima, from the Vienna Boys Choir. Nakajima was immensely impressive as Oberto, singing Handel’s music fluently and with an unaffected directness. He had a very self-possessed stage presence and was seriously in danger of stealing the show.

Ruggiero’s tutor, Melisso, is a role which Handel reduced when writing the opera, so that the character gets only 1 aria. Baritone Luca Tinttoto accounted himself well in the aria and made you wish he’d been given more to do.

When Handel wrote Teseo, based on a French tragedie lyrique there are indications that he intended to create a mixture of dance and singing in the manner of the French opera, but economics seems to have put paid to this. In Alcina he had Marie Salle and her dance troupe available, so that dance plays a big part in the opera, though is often cut in modern performance. Minkowski gave us all the dances, so that Act 2, after Alcina’s ‘Ombre pallide’ we get dances for ‘divers specters’. Then at the end of Act 3, there are dances for the men who had been turned into stones by Alcina. Here also, the soloists joined in with the singers of the chorus as would have happened in Handel’s day.

Les Musiciens du Louvre — Grenoble were present in strength, with 32 strings and triple woodwind. It was heartening to hear this great music played by stylishly such a large body of players. There were plenty of fine solo moments, including obbligato violin and cello

Minkowski has been conducting Handel with his ensemble for many years and I enjoy his way with the music. His performances seem to more direct, lacking the French accent of some of his colleagues. Speeds were sometimes brisk and the recitatives flowed nicely, but he never went beyond his singers technical abilities and the opera never felt rushed.

In an ideal world, we would have been able to experience Adrian Noble’s staging of the opera in the Barbican Theatre. But Minkowski and his ensemble gave such a fluently dramatic and involving account of Alcina that you hardly noticed the lack of a staging.

Robert Hugill

Handel’s Alcina is the first of a major series of baroque operas at the Barbican Centre, London. All feature specialist European baroque orchestras and major singers. Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso will appear on 26th March 2011 with Lemieux, Larmore, Jaroussky, Stotijn, Cangemi, Basso and Senn. (Ensemble Matheus/Spinosi). Handel’s Ariodante follows on 25th May with DiDonato, Gauvin, Phan, Lemieux, and others (Il complesso barocco/Curtis) For more details please see the Barbican website.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):