Endless musings on illusion and impermanence in Alcina
Considering it’s based on a 16th century heroic poem set in the times of Charlemagne, Alcina‘s libretto is hardly an action packed romp. Instead we get a meditation on the nature of reality via personal relationships. The alternating emotional distance and emotional intensity that runs through it is fascinating.
At face value, Alcina is a centuries old sorceress in possession of the secret of eternal youth and attractiveness (which secret is, tellingly, held by an urn). Clearly the work of her life is holding time at bay. Ruggiero is a young knight who comes of age in her company. He’s initially under her spell, but as he grows up, he is awakened to the truth behind smoke and mirrors.
In a sense, the passage of time has a negative effect on Alcina whilst it favours Ruggiero. In spite of her efforts to stop change, Alcina is transformed as well – by love, which, for her, has both positive and negative effects. The very fact that she holds on to Ruggiero is unusual for her. It’s telling that a woman who wants to halt change is constantly changing her lovers and the moment she doesn’t anymore her identity falls apart1. Close scrutiny dispels illusions?
So Alcina is a sorceress – in common parlance that would be a vamp (she turns men into beasts, eh?). Ruggiero gets seduced by a vamp and forgets his virtuous girlfriend. I think it’s amusing that Ruggiero is restored to seeing “reality” when he gets a (magic) ring on his finger. The parallel to marriage is telling. But then this is also a magic ring. So could he be passing from under one spell to under another?
Is impermanence akin to lies? If something is constantly changing, does it have an inherent truth? I feel the key to Alcina is Verdi prati. The prologue tells us that before meeting Alcina, Ruggiero runs into Astolfo, who warns him about what Alcina is up to. So is Ruggiero a willing captive and not so deluded after all? Or willingly deluded? Verdi prati tends to suggest so.
edited in October 2014, re-posted in December 2014
- There’s a bit of misogyny in Alcina… the strong woman must be defeated. Or a woman is allowed to be strong as long as she is virginal (Bradamante) ↩