Alcina magnifica (Barbican, 10 October 2014)
Superb performance. Somebody please stage Alcina in London now with this cast.
Alcina: Joyce DiDonato
Ruggiero: Alice Coote
Morgana: Anna Christy
Bradamante: Christine Rice
Oronte: Ben Johnson
Melisso: Wojtek Gierlach
Oberto: Anna Devin
Conductor: Harry Bicket (harpsichord) | English Concert
This was simply amazing. The picture happens to be the best of the batch (my camera is shit, I know) but it tells the story of the night. Anna Christy’s Morgana almost stole the show. Almost. It’s nary impossible to beat JDD at her own game. Yet Anna Christy managed to make everybody – public and performers – smile with her wonderfully coquettish Morgana, continuously glancing amorously at a very embarrassed Bradamante and even putting big sis Alcina in her place a couple of times. And she nailed her arias – great coloratura and amazing breath control. I couldn’t have hoped for a more gleeful Tornami a vagheggiar and I’m picky.
But the entire cast was so strong and in such good form it would be hard and truly unfair to pick and choose. And then Alcina is such a hit-fest, ace aria follows ace aria and then there are even a couple of – shudder-gasp – ensembles. Non e amor, ne gelosia was a delirious mezzo-fest = how often do you get 3! mezzos (and of this level) harmonising? I’m surprised I didn’t pass out from mezzo overload (who am I kidding, there’s no such thing 😀 ). I did almost pass out during Ombre pallide. JDD seemed in a strange mood but, work ethic warrior that she is, when the spotlight was on her she was on fire. I mean, Jesus! Ombre pallide is not usually the highlight of the opera for me but tonight it was something else. It’s true, JDD makes a magnificent Alcina; supremely commanding and lonely, a very interesting flavour. I don’t even know how to put it into words, the intensity she achieved in this aria. I was getting physically uncomfortable, I even had to look away for a few moments. Luckily we had intermission afterwards and I had some time to collect myself. And she rocked Ma quando tornerai as well.
As I was saying in the Dorothea Roschmann post, sitting very close “to the action” (second row tonight) is both great and a bit of a hazard. You do see everything and if your singers are good actors – such as was the case here – it’s wonderful. You also hear everything, all the floated pianissime of which there were quite a few tonight, especially from JDD and Alice Coote (highlight: the very empathetic Mi lusinga il dolce affetto). But it means I can’t tell you if anyone had problems projecting. The sound was simply gorgeous at the front, with some muscular support from the orchestra during Oronte’s Semplicetto, a donna credi and Bradamante’s Vorrei vendicarmi and lovely solo violin accompaniment in a number of places. The horns in Sta nell’Ircana seemed a bit out of sync but maybe it’s me? I’ve only heard it live once before. Another hazard of sitting under the singers’ noses is you end up focusing on them at the expense of the orchestra. I lucked out sitting on the side of Team Alcina so I stared at Alcina, Ruggiero, Morgana and Oronte all night, and I got the most of these two couples’ highs and lows and their excellent interactions – cute, playful, vindictive, ambivalent, pleading, forgiving. Aside from that grey-green (trust me, not the picture) fish-scales dress, JDD had on some badass steel heel boots. And err, lots on cleavage on display. But that pompadour effectively blocked the surtitles. I kid, who needs surtitles?! It’s bloody Alcina. If I had to live with only one Handel opera this is it.
After waiting for it for 8 months the expectations were very high. But
from the overture on as soon as Morgana started making eyes at Bradamante I could tell we were on for a special treat. Let me say one thing: outstanding coloratura across the board. I did expect the big names to deliver but everybody rose to the task. I’d be only too happy to see Alcina staged with this entire cast. Maybe I need to write another post where I do pick it apart aria by aria, Tito-style 😉 I have so many good things to say about it all. Wonderful.