Alcina magnifica (Barbican, 10 October 2014)

Superb performance. Somebody please stage Alcina in London now with this cast.


Anna Christy, JDD and Harry Bicket

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.


About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on October 11, 2014, in baroque, fachs of the world, historical timeline, mezzos & contraltos and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Wow! It seems this was really good. A friend of mine went but by the time I got into this stuff all the tickets were gone (save some very expensive returns I had to pass on) – but sounds like an absolute blast. Glad you enjoyed it! I’d have loved to see Alice Coote in something else post-Xerxes… So now, tell me: since I can’t see this, and since I don’t know Alcina at all, is there a DVD I can start with which will enable me to get to know the story and see some good performances? Another friend sent me a clip of a young Alice Coote singing Sta nell’ ircana – is that performance on DVD perhaps?

    • Oh, it was. I will write a follow-up post. I did initially moan about the £55 ticket price but you know what? It was the best £55 I spent all year. If they suddenly announced two more shows I would pay it again in a blink.

      It was lovely to see AC again so soon! She’s an excellent Ruggiero and there is, indeed, a DVD of the rather controversial 1999 production in which she sang Ruggiero. I personally am happy with that production, I think it conveys the trapped feeling very well and it’s stylish. Catherine Nglestad (Alcina) is a wonderful actress and not shabby singer, AC is cute as hell and of course she can sing, plus they are great together. But some people hate it with a passion, so you should check it out on youtube before you shell out money.

      Another thing you need is JDD’s CD recording of the title role. I don’t have it, but after last night I am going to get it. People are positive about her and Maite Beaumont (Ruggiero) in that recording but there seem to be moans about some of the supporting roles.

      There are two DVDs I would recommend:

      1) if you can catch the 1990 Geneve (I think) recording with Arleen Auger in the title role and Kathleen Kuhlmann = the best Bradamante ever, with Richard Hickox conducting (I say that because the same cast recorded one with William Christie but I think that one is audio only – also good; only you need to first find out how many Alcinas you need 😉 ). This is perhaps showing its age but the production has some interesting (whimsical) details and there is fantastic singing from those two (and the rest are nowhere near shabby). If you can’t find it, here’s the CD recording.

      2) the Vienna production with Anja Harteros in the title role and Vesselina Kasarova (Ruggiero). It’s a very complex “faux traditional” production (the better you know the opera the most you get out of it) and those two rock plus it’s beautiful to look at. VK is a bit of an acquired taste but if you happen to like her idiosyncrasies she’s well worth your time. And she’s ace at trouser roles. Here’s her Sta nell’Ircana from that production, so you know what you’re in for.

      So to sum it up, there’s no generally recognised perfect Alcina but I like all of these for their own strengths – and because I just looooooove the music an the story. Alcina is simply one of the coolest, most complex and elusive female characters in opera.

      You could also try Joan Sutherland’s old school Alcina but it IS old school. If you like Sutherland or are interested in how Baroque singing/playing has evolved you should try it but otherwise stick with nowadays productions. Baroque has never been done better since its heyday.

  2. I’m going to stop reading this blog. This shade of green does not become me.

    • hey! you saw VK in this at the Barbican! how green do you think I am?! especially considering the Paris concert was bloody cancelled… 😦

      • i was there last night too. I don’t say this lightly but it was a show highlight of my year. Agree about JDD seeming detached at times when spotlight was off, but wowee, everyone was on form. PS, if you could hear some guy shouting “BRAVA!” (sort of wrongly, too, so that it became an interjection or admonishment, as he didn’t emphasise the end syllable as I understand one should) after Anna Christie closed Act 1, that guy was not me (I rarely yell) but he was directly behind me in the balcony, and he nearly blew my ears out. (I opted instead for applause.) Well worth £15 ticket! and holy macaroni, I NEARLY DIDN’T GO. Glad I did.

        • DEFINITELY a highlight. The other show that comes close in intensity was Die Frau ohne Schatten. How could you think of not going with that cast?! Glad to hear that chap wasn’t you, haha. I was the one enthusiastically clapping as soon as the last note of nearly every aria ended, sorry to anyone – hopefully! – taping it, I just couldn’t help it – especially stuff like that Tornami, Ombre pallide and Non e amore, ne gelosia.

  3. i don’t like it that this post doesn’t receive some 38 comments!! 🙂 love the “extended” version especially, but you reminded me so much of my first super experience of Alcina too.. and that “un momento di contento” tune is really sticky! (i’d have commented more but got bull-dozed over with works brroomp).

    • it’s always a mystery which posts will get comments or lots of hits. I googled it and for some reason it’s not picked by google as high as other posts of mine.

      glad it brought back happy memories 🙂 it’s one of my very favourites as well. I wish it was staged all the time.

      don’t worry, I know people have to work. I’m actually really happy with the amount of comments and interaction in general the blog is getting these days.

      • actually when they released the initial schedule last year, Boston was on the list too, before New York, but i’m guessing after strategizing, they must have thought they couldn’t generate enough interest (??) so Boston was off the list w/in 1 month, grrr!

        • but are you going to NYC? I was looking at Carnegie Hall to see if it was sold out and it wasn’t, whereas in London it has been sold out for like 2 months. A bit weird, I thought JDD was even more popular in the US than here.

          • crap, i typed a long reply which wp just ate..
            i was saying..
            when is NYC? (too lazy to search, currently fighting visciously w/ figure caption…)
            i think she’s very popular here, but arts in general not as valued in US (i could be assuming things..), but i think it’s one of the main reasons they canceled boston (grrr). also i don’t know if arts get subsidized in the UK (?) but here it’s quite expensive. the thing that got to me the most is the huge hall size, so you pay a ton, not hearing as well if baroque, and not see well either.. one of the reasons i soo enamored with wigmore hall and kept asking about barbican 🙂

            • Sunday 26th October at 2pm. The arts get some subsidy here, yes, but not as much as in Germany. Those people love their opera. I always thought Carnegie Hall was smaller but I guess not? They really need to stage these Baroque operas in smaller venues, I agree.

              • oh thanks :-). i’ll contemplate.. that’s right after a huge meeting here where we generally get many visitors from europe staying (since they already have to clear US custom(!!) to get in and paid huge amount to cross atlantic..) so it might not be nice to ditch them… 😀

                • your car might – mysteriously – break down or something? 😉

                  • i have no car! so no excuse there ;-).
                    but it would be super nice indeed, i’ve only heard JDD live once, a very spicy Rosina! it’s interesting you mentioned the 3-mezzo in “non ne amor e gelosia”, i noticed that too the first time live, coz Harteros’ voice is quite rich.. but her music is quite high, unlike Bradamante’s line which if you don’t pay attention you miss entirely! (but it’s true, may be i wasn’t paying attention, coz Alcina was standing wayy on the other side 😉 )

                    • you can use the tried and true “sick with diarrhea” line. In my line of work that’s the kiss of death, everybody leaves you alone if you’ve got the runs. Or you can just tell the truth, that it’s JDD and two other mezzos in your favourite (right?) opera and so you just can’t miss it 😀 yes, I think I missed Bradamante a bit since she was constantaly on the other side. Did you see there’s a bootleg from the Pamplona show floating around? Sounds like whoever recorded it was on the balcony but it’s better than nothing.

                    • sorry, pamplona, vhat’s dat? but if you ‘r referring to the zürich one, i’ve listened, but it was only audio, can be a bit hard on the headache side these phone recording.. there’s also a primitive-device recording of VK and genaux too.. way back in time..

                    • this one. The Zurich one with Bartoli? I have it somewhere, I wasn’t very into it. Maybe I need to bring it out. There’s a VK and Genaux version? Who’s the Alcina in that? I only knew about the one with VK and Podles.

                    • there’s a VK and Podles??!! we can exchange! 😉 Alcina was Orgonasova, in paris, 2004..

                    • I’ll email you about this.

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