Ariodante, deeper into the swamp (London Handel Fest, 14 March 2016)
Over the past few days I have come to a better understanding – and appreciation – of Handel’s own Scottish play. Since thadieu was in town for a few days only and tried to pack in as much as she could I thought I’d join her for another look at Ariodante, now with alternate cast, save for the King of Scotland and Odoardo.
Ariodante: Kamilla Dunstan
Ginevra: Gemma Lois Summerfield
Dalinda: Marie Lys
Polinesso: Thomas Scott-Cowell
Lurcanio: Thomas Erlank
King of Scotland: Simphiwe Simon Shibambu
Odoardo: Joel Williams
Conductor: Laurence Cummings
The biggest curiosity of the night was the slowest Con l’ali di costanza either of us has ever heard. We initially thought perhaps last night’s Ariodante had to take it easy with the coloratura, but the confident Dopo notte showed that wasn’t the case. So I’m at a loss as to the possible reasons behind this decision. After a murky initial coloratura, Dunstan recovered considerably and continuously improved through the night, culminating with a rousing Dopo notte, sung with panache and expressivity (and cheerful splashes in the pool). Thadieu also thought Scherza, infida was done proper justice and she loves that aria more than I do. I felt a tad more emotion1 could’ve been wrung out but otherwise was pleased with its coherence. Dunstan has an interesting darkish voice that gets a bit covered in duets but which she uses with intelligence in solo arias. For instance her redition of Cieca notte had enough gravitas to also leave a positive impression.
After seeing it twice with different singers it appears that the director specifically wanted this production’s Polinesso to come off as a homicidal creep. To that end I was surprised more (as in evil or disgusting) wasn’t done with the dolls Dalinda is playing with when Polinesso approaches her. In the first aria Scott-Cowell captured the deceptive mood rather well but then had constant trouble with the coloratura in Se l’inganno (I figure it lies rather low? Quite a few contraltos have sung it, with very good results). Later Dover, giustizia, amor was more solid. Sadly, this production’s Polinesso was a missed opportunity.
Perhpas to balance this, Lurcanio is more manly than usual. He manhandles Dalinda rather roughly at the beginning of the show, which makes it feel like all men are tough lumberjacks at the King of Scotland’s court. Save for Ariodante, of course, who’s fey – and thus inexplicably chosen to rule. Whilst on the subject of manliness of men – this time around it felt like the duel scene was highly enjoyed – perhaps the high point of the evening – by the protagonists. Also points to Scott-Cowell for properly slumping in the swamp.
After the first act I both thadieu and I agreed that Summerfield’s Ginevra was outstanding. She had a bigger voice than the others but with a compact body to it and sang with much expressivity. Ginevra’s laments were still a bit slow going but her (congenial) stage presence helped a lot. I also noticed very good dramatic interaction between her and Dalinda and her and Ariodante. Generally speaking I thought acting was better this time around and I do think she was the driving force behind it.
The orchestra sounded more energetic – and rhytmically driven – than on Saturday and the general mood was jollier. I was quite pleased with the oboes (and their hot pink chairs). Sadly having moved early on to the now favourite right side balcony, the theorbo ornaments during Scherza, infida were lost. But from this perch with excellent view of the orchestra I enjoyed watcheing Cummings guide his singers through the fiendish coloratura.
Not having to focus on everything at the same time and move around for every act I could think a bit about the swamp. At the beginning the swamp is completely obscured by a floating pontoon, which starts to break by the beginning of act II. So I suppose this means the kingdom is shaken to its very foundations. I also imagine that the invading (dark) water represents the deceptive feelings that interfere in the order of things.
The moral of this story is to go more than once (if the circumstances allow), you might get a few surprises.
- I habitually am in tears by the end of (sometimes halfway through) those renditions I’m most moved by. ↩
Posted on March 16, 2016, in baroque, live performances, mezzos & contraltos and tagged ariodante, britten hall royal college of music, handel, london handel festival 2016. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.