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Excellent musical performances and theatrical dazzle don’t fairly add as much as a satisfying staging of Handel’s Alcina at Covent Backyard

Handel: Alcina - Lisette Oropesa - Royal Opera (Photo ROH/Marc Brenner)
Handel: Alcina – Lisette Oropesa – Royal Opera (Photograph ROH/Marc Brenner)

Handel: Alcina; Lisette Oropesa, Emily d’Angelo, Mary Bevan, Varduhi Abrahamyan, Rupert Charlesworth, Jose Coca Loza, Rafael Flutter, director: Richard Jones, conductor Christian Curnyn; Royal Opera Home
Reviewed 10 November 2022 (★★★★)

Some excellent musical performances assist elevate a manufacturing that appears to fairly attempt too arduous, however does handle some actual theatrical glamour

The Royal Opera has periodically tried to do justice to the truth that Handel offered his last operatic seasons (1734-1741) on the 18th century predecessor to the current Covent Backyard theatre, however the firm has struggled to discover a place for Handel’s operas theatrically within the bigger nineteenth century auditorium. There have been excessive factors, however typically essentially the most satisfying Handelian opera performances at Covent Backyard have been within the smaller, Linbury Theatre.

Handel’s Alcina was premiered at Covent Backyard in 1735, and the current Royal Opera firm has tried to do justice to this. Zefferelli directed the opera at Covent Backyard in 1962 with Joan Sutherland. An necessary milestone within the twentieth century Handel revival, the manufacturing was evidently little greater than a live performance with beautiful costumes. In 1993 there was a brand new manufacturing with a high quality solid led by Yvonne Kenny, however the staging was theatrically inert. Director Stephen Wadsworth appeared to have determined to eschew magic utterly and one reviewer commented that Alcina’s island appeared to have been doused with agent orange.

Magic appears to be one of many issues with this opera. In an age when swords and sorcery epics are so widespread, when a era of kids have grown up with Harry Potter, it appears odd that the theatrical world fails to embrace this. I’m nonetheless ready for a manufacturing of Alcina that follows the libretto, the place she is an actual sorceress, and the magic is a vital a part of her armoury. Handel’s Alcina is an Armida-like determine, somebody omnipotent who finds that love doesn’t reply to magic instructions.

For its new manufacturing of Handel’s Alcina, the Royal Opera selected Richard Jones as director. An intriguing selection, there’s the suspicion that Jones’ has turn into worryingly ubiquitous in London opera in the mean time, what with La Boheme and Samson et Dalila at Covent Backyard and The Valkyrie on the London Coliseum. However Jones has type with Handel, his 1994 manufacturing of Handel’s Giulio Cesare on the Bavarian State Opera, that includes an enormous dinosaur and Ann Murray in a kilt, created a sensation.

Handel: Alcina - Mary Bevan, Rupert Charlesworth - Royal Opera (Photo ROH/Marc Brenner)
Handel: Alcina – Mary Bevan, Rupert Charlesworth – Royal Opera (Photograph ROH/Marc Brenner)

His method to Alcina is definitely full of comparable such theatrical magic, and judging by the enthusiastic response from the viewers, has positively hit the spot. Once we have been there (10/11/2022), there gave the impression to be loads of folks within the viewers unfamiliar with the construction of Baroque opera and eager to applaud on the ends of A sections and B sections of Da Capo arias. That these folks could possibly be made to be smitten by Handel, to be tempted to discover additional, is an excellent factor. And I got here away from the efficiency questioning who it was for, and whether or not I wasn’t actually the meant viewers.

We caught the second evening of Richard Jones’ manufacturing of Handel’s Alcina on the Royal Opera on Thursday 10 November 2022. Christian Curnyn carried out and designs have been by Anthony MacDonald, lighting by Lucy Carter, motion by Sarah Fahie. Lisette Oropesa was Alcina with Emily D’Angelo as Ruggiero, Mary Bevan as Morgana, Varduhi Abrahamyan as Bradamante, Rupert Charlesworth as Oronte, Jose Coca Loza as Atlante/Melisso and Rafael Flutter as Oberto. The manufacturing featured eleven dancers, however no refrain.

MacDonald’s designs have been dazzling and there was a lot right here to please the attention. Jones’ manufacturing was primarily based round the concept that Alcina’s magic was glamour, she was featured in shiny magazine-style images with a big bottle of fragrance, and this bottle was the supply of her magic energy, one spray turned folks to animals. No matter you concentrate on Richard Jones’ theatrical type, his capability to learn and re-create a libretto is famous, so this was one of many first productions I’ve seen in a very long time to function Alcina’s former lovers become animals. We noticed this taking place through the overture and the ten dancers all sported animal heads and shaped an entourage of loving obsessives fawning spherical Alcina.

Handel: Alcina - Mary Bevan, Lisette Oropesa, Emily D'Angelo - Royal Opera (Photo ROH/Marc Brenner)
Handel: Alcina – Mary Bevan, Lisette Oropesa, Emily D’Angelo – Royal Opera (Photograph ROH/Marc Brenner)

In opposition to this, the forces of normality have been portrayed as being members of a Puritan sect, we noticed them through the overture and from the center of Act Two, Atlante was stalking spherical in full Puritan garb and handing out spiritual tracts. In actual fact, Jones appeared far much less fascinated about Alcina’s magic than on this opposition between the 2 forces. And right here, Alcina was not a lot a sympathetic portrait of an evil sorceress as a determine of glamorous enjoyable and frolic who fails in love. In Handel’s authentic, the biggest variety of arias (eight) went to the star, the castrato Carestini who sang Ruggiero, and right here Emily d’Angelo additionally acquired numerous arias and the opera turned as a lot about Ruggiero’s journey. 

Visually nonetheless, the manufacturing was very stressed. MacDonald’s surroundings was largely moveable, and Jones took benefit of this, in order that the setting was continuously in movement. The dancers spent a lot of their time wheeling flowers and bushes round, and there was even a greenhouse for Rupert Charlesworth’s Oronte. As Alcina’s powers waned on the finish of Act Two, so the visible splendour did too and there was a definite feeling that Jones solely actually turned fascinated about Alcina as a personality from the top of Act Two, when she realises that she has misplaced Ruggiero. 

The stressed type of the manufacturing was exacerbated by the intensive use of the dancers as ex-lovers sporting outsize animal heads, to generally disturbing impact. While some components of the staging appear to have been lifted from David McVicar’s ENO manufacturing of Alcina, such because the dance sequence accompanying Morgana’s climactic aria on the finish of Act One, elsewhere the dancers regularly pulled focus throughout arias. However then this was a manufacturing which appeared to relish pulling focus, there have been few moments when a singer was in a position to carry out an aria with out added leisure on stage. Frankly, by the center of Act Two, I used to be beginning to weary of the theatrical type of the manufacturing and was discovering that the person components didn’t fairly add as much as a coherent dramatic thread. What we had was a collection of finely carried out arias, however with out a actual feeling of drama. Whether or not due to what was taking place on stage or within the pit, Act One by no means fairly took off as a dramatic work, regardless of the excellent singing. 

There was one additional aspect to the manufacturing which, for me, sat uneasily. Humour. Jones by no means made enjoyable of the characters, he at the least handled them critically, however a component of theatrical wit and humour was woven into the manufacturing, the viewers was inspired to chuckle. Personally, I discover this unsatisfactory, if Handel had needed a component of humour, he would have added it (he did so, for example, in two different operas from the 1730s, Partenope and Serse). While some commentators are snug with this type of change, I persist in feeling irritated that Handel nonetheless attracts administrators who need to tinker with the dramatic sense of his works in a means that they’d not with, say, Verdi’s La traviata.

Handel: Alcina - Varduhi Abrahamyan, Edward Grint (cover Atlante/Melisso) - Royal Opera (Photo ROH/Marc Brenner)
Handel: Alcina – Varduhi Abrahamyan, Edward Grint (cowl Atlante/Melisso) – Royal Opera (Photograph ROH/Marc Brenner)

Lengthy gone are the times when conductors would wrestle to get opera orchestras to play with something like interval type, however there was the sensation within the pit that the efficiency by no means fairly took wing. Christian Curnyn achieved a decent type from the orchestra and speeds have been all the time apposite, nevertheless it lacked the theatrical sparkle and chew that the most effective interval (and interval type) performances deliver. The singers, nonetheless, have been on superb type and as ever with Richard Jones, no matter you considered the manufacturing type, his capability to attain absolutely engaged performances from his singers was outstanding. That Emily d’Angelo gave a high quality account of ‘Verdi prati’ while awkwardly perched in an enormous bonsai, or that Rupert Charlesworth managed to be touching in his last aria regardless of sporting solely a pair of underpants was in a means great and noteworthy, an actual testomony to the artists, however you continue to needed to query the dramaturgical causes for these theatrical selections.

Lisetta Oropesa was a magnetic Alcina, relishing the challenges of the position. When the going acquired robust on the finish of Act Two, she responded fantastically, giving us a profoundly shifting ‘Ah, mio cor’ and offering vivid theatrical drama in her failed invocation to the spirits. Any manufacturing of Alcina requires a title position who can address the technical calls for and provides us theatrical bravura; Oropesa did this brilliantly, while rocking a pair of ridiculous heels. Who was this Alcina? We by no means fairly labored that out. She was dressed glamorously, maybe as some type of lounge-singer. However as an individual, Oropesa made us look after her as her world fell aside.

As Morgana, Mary Bevan positively dazzled in her showpiece, ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’, however elsewhere she was touching too. Regardless of the theatrics and the virtuoso exhibiting off, Bevan managed to make us really feel for this Morgana, buffeted by love and in her Act Three aria giving us profound emotion. This was in some ways a star efficiency and was one of many the explanation why this manufacturing was so musically sturdy, that Oropesa was surrounded by singers of equal magnitude and talent. 

Handel: Alcina - Emily D'Angelo - Royal Opera (Photo ROH/Marc Brenner)
Handel: Alcina – Emily D’Angelo – Royal Opera (Photograph ROH/Marc Brenner)

Emily D’Angelo appeared and sounded excellent as Ruggiero, convincing because the fairly shallow younger man but singing with ease and beautiful agency targeted tone. She managed to make Ruggiero fairly much less of an fool wimp than typical, and benefitting from a beneficiant allocation of arias, made the opera about Ruggiero’s coming of age, his capability to see the place his path lay. It’s a testomony to Handel’s talent and theatrical nous that, for all of the bravura in a few of the arias D’Angelo made essentially the most impression with ‘Verdi prati’, although she was spectacular in ‘Sta nell’Ircana’ too.

Varduhi Abrahamyan was a splendidly vivid Bradamante, sturdy in character however giving us loads of finely targeted tone and vigorous passagework. In some ways, Abrahamyan’s was a few of the most trendy Handel singing of the night and I cherished the best way she managed to mix energy, focus and vividness in her extra bravura moments. Rupert Charlesworth made a very vivid Oronte, and it was good that his character was handled critically for as soon as. Maybe there was the odd tough edge to Charlesworth’s singing, however this felt all of a-piece with the persona and I cherished the best way he held the stage no matter was happening round him. Jose Coca Loza was a finely Atlante, delivering his aria with aplomb and managing to make the character’s persona work on this manufacturing.

The position of Oberto might be one thing of a problem. A comparatively late addition to Handel’s opera, the position was created merely to point out off a gifted boy soprano. Covent Backyard appeared to have managed to seek out not one however two gifted younger singers. Malakai M Bayoh appears to have created fairly a stir on the manufacturing’s premiere on 8 November, and we noticed Rafael Flutter within the position. Flutter did way over simply sing the notes, he created a powerful theatrical character and was absolutely built-in into the manufacturing. His singing was way over creditable, and for one so younger he managed the trick of singing this music with out seeming to have his eyes welded onto conductor, Christian Curnyn. And maybe most significantly, he gave the impression to be having nice enjoyable.

Handel: Alcina - Emily D'Angelo, Rupert Charlesworth  - Royal Opera (Photo ROH/Marc Brenner)
Handel: Alcina – Emily D’Angelo, Rupert Charlesworth  – Royal Opera (Photograph ROH/Marc Brenner)

It appears perverse for a home Covent Backyard’s measurement to stage one among Handel’s few operas with an impartial refrain half, after which not use a refrain. However that’s what occurred right here (and at Glyndebourne within the Summer time). The choruses have been sung by the soloists, although this meant that the beautiful last refrain considerably lacked its impression.

The manufacturing appears to be worrying tailor-made to singers with the requisite physique du rôle, does that imply that this was a one-off manufacturing (it’s shared with the Met) by no means to be seen once more, or that it’s going to solely be revived with this, or an analogous solid? Will we be again within the fairly embarrassing ‘little black costume’ situation that performed out with Strauss’ Ariadne? I definitely hope not, there are many singers I might love to listen to and see on this manufacturing.

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