Dreadfully dreary Alcina (La Monnaie, February 2015)

It’s been many months since La Monnaie has livestreamed this production; it’s been available online since. Yet after all this time I couldn’t get properly excited about it. The lack of colour when it comes to the sets and the costumes is one reason. Piau’s very subdued take on the sorceress is another. But there’s more to moan about.

Alcina is the kind of opera where a lavish/imaginative approach to decors and costumes is always warranted. So there must be a reason for sharing costumes with Tamerlano:

  1. Drottningholm is cheap
  2. Drottninghold is clever saving on costumes
  3. Audi is trying to tell us you are now entering the Museum of Baroque Opera; this is rather trendy these days, though La Monnaie is not Drottningholm, so the location charm is lost. But if that’s the idea then Beaumont’s direction to act very much the star castrato is an astute move.
  4. Audi must think there are some parallels between Alcina and Tamerlano, considering how similarly he directed the last scene in both.

Alcina, the character. I’ll blame Audi for most of my lack of enthusiasm. No doubt Piau did what she was asked to do. Though perhaps her lower notes aren’t strong enough for this role. She sounded sort of veiled or monochrone when not called to deliver acuti. The very rare occasions for a bit of playfululness coupled with this vocal greyness made for a surprisingly unengaging Alcina chez dehggi.

Musically. Maestro zooms through it perhaps a bit too much for (my) comfort. Les Talens Lyriques is an orchestra always worth listening to; it most certainly does not dissapoint. However, the mood of the production is sombre; Alcina isn’t truly happy even on Ah, mio cor and her hidden fear at losing her charms is very obvious during Si, son quella. Combined with speed and relative harsheness of the conducting it feels dreary rather than tragic.


Ruggiero: I’ll do the right thing even if it kills me.

Alcina: Sandrine Piau
Ruggiero: Maite Beaumont
Morgana: Sabina Puértolas
Bradamante: Angélique Noldus
Oronte: Daniel Behle
Melisso: Giovanni Furlanetto
Oberto: Chloé Briot
Conductor: Christophe Rousset | Les Talens Lyriques, Choeur de Chambre de l’IMEP
Director: Pierre Audi

Who saves the day? Among the disappointments there is still a brighter light: Maite Beaumont’s Ruggiero. Though not the subtlest of singers, Beaumont can be relied upon when it comes to trouser roles, both vocally and dramatically. Sta nell’ircana is satisfyingly heroic and solidly sung.

In the beginning, Ruggiero is confused by the new arrivals on the island (of love):

La bocca vaga: Beaumont is ferocious here and it works. Though she appears tiny compared to her co-stars, she can do commanding with the best of them. Her Ruggiero is very much an Octavian: young and confused but also gutsy when his patience has run out. Here she’s in excellent voice, which is a treat, as her voice fits Ruggiero. I loved her ringing low notes – but then I loved the whole thing, epecially, on subsequent watching, Ruggiero’s obvious lack of faith in his lover despite his vociferous statements to the contrary. One of the very best Boccas out there.

Morgana thinks she’s aced a hottie:

Tornami a vagheggiar: I never took the coloratura for hahahahas before, but the light and playful way Les Talens Lyriques echo them lit the bulb in my mind. Indeed! Morgana is delighted to learn that Ricciardo prefers her to the way more powerful sister. Puertolas’ is not the lightest voice but she can convey lightheartedness.

Ruggiero grows up/old:

Mi lusinga il dolce affetto: Beaumont is definitely more of an aria di bravura singer and I knew this would be the true test of her Ruggiero. She’s got the right attitude and her acting is spot on but it seems like it’s not easy for her to stay below mezzo forte for long. The ppps are rather ps. In the da capo (the che m’inganni amando ancor bit) I thought she was too loud and forceful. Yes, Ruggiero is majorly confused but he is so scared he might be making a mistake he couldn’t possibly be crying out. I can see JDD coaching this: “you’re barely able to utter the words for fear you’ll be breaking the wrong spell”.

The bitter end:

Non e amor ne gelosia: Rousset once again goes for extreme speed, which I take to illustrate the all around frustration. But it’s kind of annoying on a purely sensorial level. The doublebass sounds very harsh and dull. Maybe it was better in the house. Though the singers can’t be faulted, it’s over quickly and the effect is underwhelming.

About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on July 24, 2015, in baroque and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. my impression of Rousset is that he’s almost always on the too fast side, pushing very hard, sometimes for no reason i can think of. i remember one commenter on yt: “why is the maestro in such a hurry? did he forget to turn off the oven at home?” and that was to Pergolesi’s stabat mater..

    • Heh! Maybe he’s afraid of letting things languish. Maybe it’s just the way his mind works. I remember when I was working in TV I used to always think the edit needed to be snappy whilst I was working on it. When I was done I invariably had to go back and extended certain parts or else it was uncomfortably fast to watch.

  2. I fould both the Alcina and the Tamerlano of La Monnaie a sore disappointment, I even deleted the videos from my collection. The mise en scène is supremely boring and uninspired -but this just confirms my opinion of Audi (I had the same impression of the Giulio Cesare shown at the Opera de Paris a couple of years ago, the one with Dessay).

    I also believe that giving such important and meaty operas in tandem did not allow Rousset to work on them well (even if he has conducted them before, but with different cast). Alcina especially felt rushed, and not in tempo, but in musical intention (“fast” is rarely a problem if the approach is thoughtful). It was just not put together well. Tamerlano was a bit better from the point of view of the conduction, but still not that inspired.

  3. there’s also the hetero alcina on plate.. though i still not so motivated yet.. despite the nice write-up by Leander..

  4. I was going to say, productions of Alcina are going to have to try really hard to be memorable from now on after that Aix one… 😉 I have both this and the Tamerlano waiting to be watched and am still keen to give them a go even though no one really seems to like them much. After all, I have uber-conservative tastes so maybe the boring costumes will be right up my street grins. At any rate, at least I’ll know what’s going on now. And it would be good to see another take on the opera to compare with that rather eye-boggling one.

    • actually the problem of both productions is not that they are conservative, but that are unimaginative and bland. If they had done the same productions in concert form, nothing would have really changed.

      Speaking about the Aix Alcina (that I’m looking forward to watch, I found it in youtube), there is a DVD around with an Alcina from a German theater of approx. 10-15 years ago also set in a dilapidated palace, it will be interesting to see the different take of the (approximately) same setting…

    • LucaM is right, there’s really hardly anything going on, that’s the main problem. I’m afraid Audi was possibly overly subtle so you might enjoy them on some level simply because you know a lot about art.

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