“The cause of sin” Ariodante (Aix, 2014)
Ariodante premiered 280 years ago this week. I thought I’d get my act together and finally watch the Aix production, which I predictably left to the last minute (it’s on Culturebox until tomorrow, 12 January; luckily, I just noticed it’s also in other, more accessible places).
Ariodante: Sarah Connolly
Ginevra: Patricia Petibon
Dalinda: Sandrine Piau
Polinesso: Sonia Prina
Lurcanio: David Portillo
Il Re di Scozia: Luca Tittoto
Odoardo: Christopher Diffey
Conductor: Andrea Marcon | Freiburger Barockorchester and English Voices
Director: Richard Jones
Ariodante is somewhat curious to me. There’s a lot of sorrow and lamentation from the duped (most everybody) occasionally broken by Polinesso’s gleeful hand-rubbing. This is the main reason why I let the months go by without watching it, even though I liked the highland religious community concept from the get-go. Nonetheless, the music is elegant-Handel.
The four main ladies are always well worth your time, especially in a Baroque setting. Everyone’s singing is excellent and all are doing a great job with their respective character but the most memorable is by far Petibon’s hard done by heroine turned liberated woman. Not to say that Prina’s eeeeeeeevil’n’viiiiiiiiicious biker-priest Polinesso won’t live long in your memory. Or Connolly’s sensitive to the bone Ariodante, or Piau’s troubled Dalinda… you catch my drift. But I think Petibon’s embodiment of Ginevra is one of the most intelligent, coherent and engrossing characterisations I’ve seen so far in opera. The stuff of legend. If I had to live with one Ariodante this would be it. I’m not sure how it could be bettered.
As usual, gentle, rather simple-minded (here country bumpkin) Ariodante isn’t worth his arch enemy’s scheming skills. You feel like all Polinesso has to do is snap his fingers under Ariodante’s nose and this one would burst into tears. He’s an unusually peace-loving hero (he refuses to defend his lady’s honour via weapons; he takes it all on faith – for better or worse – which, granted, makes this here concept only logical). To her credit, Sarah Connolly renders him as sympathetic as he can get. He’s the best man his very traditional community can produce but he can’t see beyond those limitations. In the end he’s left dreaming about a future that can’t be.
Petibon does a remarkable thing with Ginevra. Given a fairly tedious character to work with, she manages the unlikely feat of infusing the unlucky princess with glamour of a very ethereal kind and a surprising amount of inner strength. I swear to god I’ve never cared about Ginevra until now. There are so many 5min+ angsty arias to go through yet she somehow keeps you interested. When she’s offered no other option by her people but to take to pole dancing, this Ginevra has other ideas. After a sweet reunion love duet with Ariodante, she simply leavs the compound. Where will she go we don’t know but we do know she is a changed woman.
Prina’s Polinesso is way satisfying in his pure evil but it’s a rather unidimensional portrayal of a
very bad boy narcissist. He wants Ginevra and because she won’t give him the time of day he schemes to have her in his own terms. His plan is almost perfect, except he’s not quite as handy with a knife as country bumpkin Lurcanio (Ariodante’s brother). Prina does dirty-with-a-good-dollop-of-evil like few can yet think I liked Mary Ellen Nesi’s wickedly sarcastic acting during Hallenberg’s Tu, preparati a morire a teensy bit better. Nonetheless, Prina’s Se l’inganno is appropriately ugly. She goes to town with the baa-ing in de-e-e-e-e-e-etesto virtu.
Sandrine Piau takes on the thankless role of Dalinda and it’s heart-wrenching to see. No less is her wonderful Baroque voice, which doesn’t seem to have lost its shine since her memorable Atalanta 14 years ago.
After the ladies I really enjoyed Portillo’s Lurcanio. Very nice tone, excellent in his arias. He’d make a great Oronte (and not for nothing, John Beard created both roles in 1735). Luca Trittoto also coped well as the benevolent but stuck in his ways patriarch. His noble voice helps Il re’s very long and rather boring aria of sorrow. Nothing to complain about regarding the orchestra and the conducting, both nicely supporting and even rather stern and unforgiving to go with the concept.
What we need now is the DVD.