Alsina, the Witch Queen of the Magic Island transforms her lovers into rocks and trees when she tires of them. At the opening of this opera, however, she is experiencing a new emotion: love...
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Alsina, the Witch Queen of the Magic Island transforms her lovers into rocks and trees when she tires of them. At the opening of this opera, however, she is experiencing a new emotion: love. But Alcina is too tough to die for love, though her magic powers disappear when she falls in love with a man. Now she is forced to deal with the infections of doubt, jealousy and mortality.
'Alcina' is not my favourite of Handel's operas (that's Giulio Cesare), which have become familiar to me overtime and they have many pleasures.
The story for 'Alcina' is somewhat static and a little daft in places, but there is an enchanting atmosphere too and it has some poignant moments. The music is also absolutely gorgeous, the most famous parts being "Ah Mio Cor" and particularly "Tornami A Vagheggiar".
'Alcina's' DVD competition is quite scant. The other DVD has Alice Coote and Catherine Naglestad, that is a controversial production and the staging is a very acquired taste but while it was a long way from perfect there was a huge amount to like, especially the singing. Just as that there is a lot to like about this production of 'Alcina', though it does suffer from some major debits.
Its biggest debit is Adrian Noble's staging. Granted it does have its moments, "Ah Mio Cor" is intimate and incredibly moving, very wisely going with the "less is more" approach which couldn't have been more ideal for such an intimate aria, the dancing is beautifully done and graceful and the recognition scene is powerfully done too. On the other hand, the play-within-a-play concept doesn't quite come off, with a very underwhelming climax that seriously lacks urgency or passion. While never distasteful, the staging is never continually compelling, has many touches that have very little to do with the storytelling or the opera and add absolutely nothing, the more tableaux parts are static and there is a distinct lack of passion, magic and emotional range, which apart from "Ah Mio Cor" and "Tornami a Vagheggiar" is decidedly narrow.
While the production is superb musically, there are also some reservations. Some of the ensembles are under-rehearsed and there is an exception to the otherwise fine cast. That exception is Vesselina Kasarova's rather mannered, as well as sometimes overacted in the face like with the off-putting grimacing, rigid and very vocally uneven (with some very ugly gear shifts, Kasarova has sounded much better than this, hear her Sesto and Rosina for examples) Ruggiero.
However the production does not look too bad visually, with tasteful costumes, gorgeous use of colour and luxurious lighting. The sets are unimaginative but nowhere near as distracting as the staging.
Luckily, things fare much better musically. A couple of reservations, but elsewhere it's perfect. The orchestra bring continuous energy and passion to their beautifully shaped and vivid playing, as well as delicate nuances, their playing is so good in fact that one wishes it was all matched on stage. Marc Minkowski, who specialises in Baroque music, conducts with a sympathetic but also buoyant air, giving the music depth and space but also a rhythmic drive.
The singing is top-drawer with the one exception being Kasarova. A big standout is Alois Mühlbacher, you'd be hard pressed to find a better Oberto anywhere, particularly nailing "Sin Per Le Vie Del Sole". His voice shimmers with beauty, also displaying a beyond-his-years mastery of vocal acting, and some of the production's most passionate and engaged acting comes from him. Despite reservations of her being too Wagnerian for the role, Anja Harteros is a vocally expressive and very affecting Alcina, leaving the viewer spellbound during "Ah Mio Cor". Veronica Cangemi sounds and acts very assured and in the zone as Morgana, while Kristina Hammarstrom's Bradamante is as solid as rocks.
Oh, before one forgets, the production is well-served on DVD, with fluid, varied and intimate filming, clear picture quality and very well balanced and recorded sound.
In summary, superb musically, though with a couple of faults, but the staging, apart from some moments, doesn't really compel. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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