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Alcina of extensive musings (Paris, 22 May 2004)

Thadieu asked for my thoughts on this a loooooooooooong time ago and I worked on it (especially in 2016, so keep that in mind) but always felt like I had more (never less) to say. Since it’s got to almost 4000 words I think it’s ok to let it loose. It’s mostly my thoughts on the actual performance but also Alcina asides and whatnot. And it’s not finished yet ūüėČ but, hey, almost 4000 words. For your convenience I’ll put the text behind a cut. Read the rest of this entry

Bradamante opens up a can of whoop-ass:

ūüėÄ ūüėÄ ūüėÄ

yea, nevermind the sound, it doesn’t do justice to either Galou or to the orchestra, but damn, that was the best Vorrei vendicarmi action¬†I’ve seen so far! It also helps that her Ruggiero looks particularly puny. Clearly Morgana was the woman of taste in this production.

Alcina of dashed hopes (Geneve, 25 February 2016)

I generally try to approach a performance as objectively as possible. Let’s just say that I’m in a funny (as in not funny) mood today (this month) due to things that have nothing to do with Handel. In any case, I had the choice of writing when in a mardy¬†mood or not writing at all. If you want to see this production click here.

Alcina: Nicole Cabell
Ruggiero: Monica Bacelli
Morgana: Siobhan Stagg
Bradamante: Kristina Hammarstrom
Oronte: Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani
Melisso: Michael Adams
Conductor: Leonard Garcia Alarcon | Grand Theatre de Geneve

Overture: it’s correct but I sense a lack of enthusiasm. That could be me. I don’t like the very low resolution offered by ARTE. Then again, the production is very dark and low light conditions are always detrimental to high res. The curtain opens soon into the overture to reveal hunting house or cabin in the woods overgrown with weeds – but also boasting a table set for dinner (Great Expectations?). Melisso and Bradamante (in vague military gear) show up with torches and find a stuffed bear but also some corsets behind a curtain. I guess it could be a love nest for outdoorsy types but it’s also a bit tired Alcina staging. Verily, this production has drawn on all the other productions I have seen.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s me – again – but I feel like I want no stagings. Just give me good singing and precise personnenregie and leave me with my own imagination.

They think they have been sneaky but Morgana (in pink kimono) has already set her eye on Bradamante. Stagg isn’t bad at the sex kitten thing in that it reminds of¬†a loud drunken babe on a Saturday night. Her method of seduction is full on. One of her techniques is to grab at Bradamante, which, of course, startles the object of her attention, who doesn’t want her cover blown from the getgo. It made me wonder if Morgana did not perhaps zero in to her being a woman and tried to convey she rather liked it. Then again, I’m way less objective today. But what can you want from this? It’s seduction island. Wouldn’t it be funny if Bradamante went out to free her lover from the snares of another only to herself end up ensnared?

People say “why don’t you write your own opera if you don’t like the libretto?” – because it’s more efficient¬†to use stage direction instead of embarking on a whole new opera with the single aim of¬†having the old opera play out slightly different.

Anyway, Bradamante is still upright and sneakily gets rid of a glass of blue flambante. I wouldn’t have drunk it either since it looked vicious rather than enticing. There’s a reason why Morgana isn’t top dog.

Enter¬†the power couple, though it’s strictly up to Alcina to hold the power bit. Ruggiero is some lapdog among a bunch of other fops who in this production have not been turned into topiary. Too bad. Alcina’s golden ’20s hairstyle is impressive. Cabell does regal without problems but given the muppets¬†she has to work with we can’t talk about sizzle. It’s obvious during¬†Di, cor¬†mio that Cabell and Bacelli have a good rapport but – given this staging – who cares? There are 2 1/2 hours to go.


Oronte and some Baroque fruit

But do you know who else is in this production? Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani. Let’s ffwd to Semplicetto, a donna credi¬†because this Ruggiero is really that semplice. Very refreshing¬†flute details in this version and expressive singing from Giustiniani, who seems to have a ball with both sections. Can we have Alcina try to put the moves on this one instead? He tosses a manly beer at Ruggiero which apparently makes this muppet gutsy enough to confront Alcina about her supposed unfaithfulness.


Ruggiero packs his toys and goes home

So how about this dude that’s currently with Alcina? The way things are going I can’t imagine Sta nell’Ircana, so I’m just going to ffwd to that bit. Military attire, brandishes a weapon, Alcina walks out half way through. Says it all. The random trills must mean this dude is cookoo. Is this a valid take? Who cares.

Listen, if you want people to find out about whatever bits might be interesting in the middle (like how Morgana and Oronte – the only characters I vaguely cared about here – deal with their issues) you have to give them something along the way.

Just because my curiosity has ebbs and flows, I skipped¬†ahead and I have to say Alcina’s Io son perduta was gorgeously done, credibly lonely and desperate, which in turn kept me around for Me restano le lagrime,¬†which was pretty good (not the most memorable¬†middle for Cabell).

It’s probably better than I give it credit for though between this and last year’s Audi production it would be hard to go for a favourite. The most recent favourite remains the Moscow concert performance (I never finished the Aix one either and I don’t see myself going back to it any time soon).

Alcina this February

Say 4th of February finds you on the French Riviera, you could spend a few hours with this motley cast and Handel’s finest work from¬†1735:

Sonya Yoncheva
Philippe Jaroussky
Emöke Barath
Delphine Galou ‚̧
Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani ‚̧!
Christian Senn
Hasnaa Bennani

or you can skip to Geneve (8 (performances) for this cast:

Nicole Cabell
Monica Bacelli
Siobhan Stagg
Kristina Hammarström
Erlend Tvinnereim / Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani
Michael Adams
bonus: no Oberto!

rather balanced casts.

Does your favourite opera pass the Bechdel test?

I was browsing idly after much Christmas food and found this clever¬†post. So, to remind you, gentle reader, the Bechdel test quantifies the feminism of films. Let’s apply it to dehggi’s favourite opera:

  1. There are two women in it, whose names are known; Vitellia and Servilia, check
  2. they talk to each other; they do, check
  3. they talk about something other than a man: they talk about Tito choosing a wife and about saving Sesto, fail.

Two outta three ain’t bad, eh? Feminism isn’t the first thing I think about when it comes to¬†Tito yet the women in the libretto are not damsels in distress; they are quite able to negotiate getting out of whatever messes they get into.

Now let’s put Alcina to the test:

  1. There are two women in it, whose names are known; more than 2, woohoo! Alcina, Morgana and Bradamante, check
  2. they talk to each other; they do, check
  3. they talk about something other than a man: it turns interesting when Morgana gets sweet on Bradamante, check.

Alcina is a good example of how¬†women in Baroque opera are more interesting than their later sisters. If the Bradamante-Morgana thing is not quite two women having a conversation about astrophysics or practical ways of eradicating famine in poor countries at least it’s not two women fighting over a man.¬†You could say Morgana thinks she’s talking to a (goodlooking) man, does this count? I think it does, because 1) gender ambiguity = yes, 2) Bradamante is still a woman and though her actions are typical woman fighting for her man she is not wringing her hands expecting others (men) to fix everything.

Alcina famously¬†does not need men to save her. It’s when she starts thinking she needs a man that things turn pearshaped. Cautionary tale, eh.

Stepping into the 19th century with I Capuleti e i Montecchi:

  1. There are two women in it, whose names are known; ooops, not enough women in this, fail
  2. they talk to each other; N/A, fail
  3. they talk about something other than a man: ok, given that Giulietta has a long monologue, she ends up talking about how much she hates her life and would rather die than marry the man imposed on her by her father. Not really check but at least something. Still fail.

It’s a 19th century opera, what did you expect? The libretto is textbook woman oppressed by the patriarchy. You do want to cry during her first duet (or first part of the long duet) with Romeo and not just because the music is so damn beautiful (snif, snif).

How about 17th century’s¬†L’incoronazione di Poppea:

  1. There are two women in it, whose names are known; way more than 2: Poppea, Ottavia, Arnalta (Nutrice is just Nutrice), Drusilla, goddesses, check
  2. they talk to each other; they do, check
  3. they talk about something other than a man: they talk about the weakness of humans, attaining power, losing power, getting old, check.

If a Baroque opera is named after a woman chances are good she’s a strong one. Also in early Baroque you get at least 2-3 goddesses who talk about ethics, so¬†the Prologue¬†already¬†passes the test.

I am afraid to put Die Frau ohne Schatten to this test ūüėÄ But let’s try Der Rosenkavalier:

  1. There are two women in it, whose names are known; Die Marschallin (Marie Therese), Sophie, Annina, Marianne, check
  2. they talk to each other; they do, check
  3. they talk about something other than a man: not really, do they? Maybe Die Marschallin and Mariandel do ūüėȬ†fail

Can’t have everything, can we?

Handel does Handel

It’s always fun pinning¬†down one of those moments when Handel (or Rossini) rehashes some of his own music. The other day I saw Handel’s Organ Concertos and thought¬†hm, why not? As soon as it started I recognised the first bit as the unnamed organ piece I had endlessly played as a teenager, taped off the radio. But later on something else emerged. Do you remember that bit at the beginning of¬†Alcina where Alcina and Ruggiero are being entertained with ballet? You might not, as it’s sometimes skipped (but not by¬†Hickox¬†in the early ’90s, Minkowski on the Vienna DVD or Sardelli in Moscow). Check it out (ffwd to min 35:01, for some reason it’s stuck around min 32):

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.

Moscow Alcina (January earrings in April ears)

Alcina turns 280 (she wishes!) on the 16th, a good time to revisit this performance now that it’s easily accessible. The first time around the sum of its parts added to more than met the eye (well… the earring¬†contest was festive) but does it hold its magic on repeated hearings?

earring stravaganza

act I

Overture – too fast and clipped – it heralds the way the orch plays the fast (and sometimes sarcastic) bits
O s’apre al riso – harder to sing than it seems
(chorus seems to think Handel singing = oratorio singing)
Oberto’s first aria (the one I usually think is boring but not here) – nice, yes (and nice singing too)
Di te mi rido – not sure the orch understands this is a funny moment; the rendition is very lyrical and beautiful but it lacks snappiness
E gelosia! Рthe orchestra plows on beautifully and must be thinking why is the singer getting all worked up? Dear orch, please look up aria di bravura.
Semplicetto, a donna crede – needs more bite
Si son quella – the orch is finally vindicated. More like the Baroque they know and love.
La bocca vaga – I know this is not a Baroque orch but what it sorely needs in arias like this is a phat arse/low end such as the orchestra here.

[insert a bunch of arias about which I don’t have extra comments this time around]

act II

Mi lusinga il dolce affetto – the sounds coming out of VG’s mouth are beguiling, though I think her (interesting) trills occasionally wander away from the character

I missed this chunk back in January:
Ama, sospira – the violin leads the way but still I think there’s too much lyricism, though a case can be made that Morgana isn’t used to standing up to big sis
Mio bel tesoro – this one’s really missing the recorders, it’s nowhere near as poignant and dark with the flutes. I also think it needs more viariation in dynamics from the orch, it’s a very intimate, half internal monologue kind of piece
Oberto’s Act II aria – quite lovely
Ah, cor mio, schernito sei РKalna is doing a hell of a job but the voice lacks the personal zing to make it an all around great interpretation

Oronte’s second aria – the first time around I couldn’t focus, now I feel I didn’t miss much. Rather pale and laborious.

ő©¬†and now for the most important moment in the opera:

Verdi prati – is preceded by Ruggiero and Bradamante being rudely interrupted by a very pissed off Morgana. I’m telling!!!!¬†she screams and runs off in a huff. Ruggiero muses on the subject of impermanence. It’s pretty but not heartbreaking (to paraphrase¬†Bellini: it should¬†make me cry).
Ombre pallide – the fact that this aria lay dormant for almost 200 years baffles me. I’m more shattered¬†by this than by the entire Act III of La traviata. It’s not for nothing I’m mentioning La traviata: here we have two people who obviously love each other but can’t be together for rather similar reasons having to do with duty and social standing. I love that these arias are back to back. Perhaps the two characters¬†should be on stage at the same time though not “together”.

Anyway, this rendition holds my attention on repeated listens. There’s just a little bit of vocal effervescence¬†separating IK from greatness.¬†ő©

act III

I like the instrumental intro this time too.
This Oronte is very serious.
Credete al mio dolore Рthe violin is beautiful and very serious, more serious than I ever imagine Morgana can get.
Ma quando tornerai – the low end of the orchestra comes through rather well here.
Sta nell’Ircana – ready, steady, horns!
me: ready for take off, VG?
VG: oops, forgot to pack my dualjet engine. Let me launch a nice trill instead.
All’alma fedel – Bardon is cool.

Non e amor ne gelosia Рinteresting hesitant instrumental intro. The three ladies sound just as lovely now together as they did in January and the trills starting here and continuing for about 30s are fabulous.

In conclusion, it’s still highly enjoyable.

Alcina (16 January 2015, Moscow webcast)

Crucial to this concert performance:¬†earrings are all the rage on Alcina’s island and¬†Vorrei vendicarmi¬†is so much better in leather trousers. Many thanks to chief Alcina-head thadieu for signalling it!

Alcina: Inga Kalna
Ruggiero: Vivica Genaux
Bradamante: Patricia Bardon
Morgana: Anna Devin
Oronte: Benjamin Hulett
Oberto: Alina Yarovaya
Melisso: Oleg Tsybulko
Conductor: Federico Maria Sardelli | Intrada Vocal Ensemble, State Chamber Orchestra of Russia
Moscow Philarmonic Society Webcast

Act I

earring stravaganza

L’isola degl’earrings (Morgana, Ruggiero, Alcina and Oberto)


Overture: not as warm without period instruments but good commitment from the orchestra

O s’apre al riso:¬†here’s the London Oberto, singing Morgana; not bad; needs better zing and perhaps more support (?)

choir interlude: pretty good, a bit behind Sardelli? nice tone but not exactly happy-delirious

dance interlude: good, gentle, finally happy in the third movement

Di, cor mio: where’s Ruggiero?! Kalna’s singing it to no one in particular but she’s feelin’ it, nice floated notes, no¬†amazing tone¬†but very convincing¬†singing

Oberto’s boring aria: quite nicely sung, good use of¬†dynamics, supportive¬†harpsi + cello; not so boring after all

Di te mi rido: great accompaniato but not very sarcastic in intention (maestro), VG into it for sure, needs more sarcasm, lots of coloratura to navigate Рneeds to be more expressive; rather neat vocal gymnastics on the last mancar (di fe)

well acted interplay between Morgana, Oronte and Bradamante

E gelosia!: Bardon rocking it in leather’n’boots (how could any Bradamante have done it any other way before?!), nice cello on merce before¬†the da capo

Semplicetto, a donna credi: very playful orchestra, more projection needed from Mr. Oronte, nice thick tone but I’d like more zing, lotsa mugging to the camera which I liked, pretty neat support from orchestra on che si mira, che sospira.

Si son quella:¬†here’s where the battle of the earrings starts, beautiful cello, sensitively done by Kalna

La bocca vaga: not bad, VG of course into it. Mum came in and I asked her if she could tell what the mood of this aria was. She thought Ruggiero was laughing at Bradamante and Melisso because they believed in love.

Ruggiero/Bradamante/Morgana recit: explaining to my mum the relationships between the characters = priceless:

me (pointing at singers): she (Morgana) just fell¬†in love with her¬†(Bradamante). She’s thinking Bradamante is¬†a¬†he, because she’s disguised as a man, but Bradamante is a she even though she’s singing lower than Ruggiero – I mean she (VG), who’s singing a he.
mum: the synopsis must be longer than the opera

Tornami a vagheggiar: lovely, gentle, good acting from Devin (she put out a hell of a lot of energy throughout), nice da capo/winds mix. The public loved it so much they got their clap on before the orchestra finished¬†ūüėČ

Act II


Bradamante: I’ll rip out her throat!


Ruggiero’s omg, I been duped¬†sorta-aria: good confusion from VG,¬†great “reality check” feel from the¬†strings

Pensa a chi geme d’amor, aka Melisso’s badarse aria: abandonata! crudel, da te (you know you want to sing it); not bad, nice tone, maybe needs more darkness, lovely accompaniment the low strings

Ruggiero freaks out some more when Bradamante reveals her identity Рun novelo incanto?! РVG is good at confusion

Vorrei vendicarmi:¬†orchestra needs more venom, Bardon’s trousers mean business, neat detail on coloratura,¬†heartwarming¬†in the B section, propely venomous on repeat

Mi lusinga il dolce affetto aka, the power of ooh-oohs: kinda great (does this one have a B section? it’s sad throughout; ok, it’s where Ruggiero gets a bit more manly – not that emphasised here), cool kitchen sink ornaments, lovely pianissime. I’m not much of a VG fan but she had my complete attention here. I was generally much in favour of her ornaments throughout the evening.

Ama, sospira: great violin, internet fail for the rest of it ūüė¶

Ah, cor mio: thank god it’s a long one! My connection reconnected about 1/3 into it. IK knows how to sing and make it unforgettable. Great job¬†negotiating the rollercoaster of moods, really gorgeous per ches (I stopped breathing along with her), vivid pause¬†between the end of the¬†B section and the realisation that she’s lost him. Has she sung Vitellia? I want to see/hear more of her in these kinds of dramatic roles of the lyric repertoire.

Oronte’s second aria: err, I needed a bit of breather after that marathon of emotion…

Verdi prati:¬†solid but didn’t make as much of an impression as Mi lusinga. I guess I hadn’t got my bearings after Ah, cor mio. But then:

Alcina is shattered/majorly pissed off, aka Ombre pallide: dear god, IK can definitely sing/keep your attention. Ah, cor mio x 2. Major waterworks chez dehggi into the¬†bowl of homemade potato salad (hey, I was out all day and made it home 5min before the show started).¬†Too many great arias, too little time to get one’s breath, Mr. Handel. You¬†expanded on¬†the mad bit¬†from¬†Furie terribilli for the furious part, didn’t you?



Very well drilled orchestra, great timing.

Credete al mio dolore: lovely cello accompaniment

Un momento di contento: quite a lovely-bittersweet rendition of one of my favourite Alcina arias. But then I kinda like ’em all.

Ma quando tornerai: clipped, venomous A section = great, reminds me a bit of Auger’s version. But generally speaking, IK reminds me (in her stage manner) of Roschmann.

Sta nell’Ircana:¬†very quick tempo and the horns are modern (maybe for the better) but neat ornaments (although not the last one) from VG; vocally she¬†needs more power. I like that she’s definitely into it.

All’alma fedel aka Bradamante’s one boring-ish aria: Bardon “the redeemer” makes it¬†very neat

Me restano le lagrime: slightly more subdued, still vintage IK Alcina

choral interlude: neat

Barbara!: girl has ‘tude, nice projection when needed

Non e amor ne gelosia: hells yea, really good meshing the three of them, not enough applause for this exciting trio done right.

I had a ball. I don’t know that it was the best Alcina ever (not my favourite voice¬†for Oronte;¬†the tempi felt a bit funny on occasion, sometimes too quick, sometimes too slow, Ruggiero needs a bit of tweaking as does Morgana) but I couldn’t tear myself from it. In conclusion I think it’s officially my second favourite opera.

Like I said, I was very impressed with Kalna’s interpretation – there are so many sides to Alcina and she was on it time and again – Bardon’s directness in singing and interpretation and Genaux’s ornaments and Mi lusinga. As soon as it ended I wanted it to start over. Luckily, there’ll be more in February ūüėÄ

La Monnaie streaming Alcina and Tamerlano

Good news for those who can’t¬†get to Brussels or Amsterdam. La Monnaie will¬†keep both shows up on their site between 18 February and 10 March. It’s the same production/same cast as in¬†Amsterdam.

This suits me well, as I’d much rather go abroad when the weather gets better.