sun 22/05/2022

Alcina, Opera North review - flat update redeemed by excellent vocal performances | reviews, news & interviews

Alcina, Opera North review - flat update redeemed by excellent vocal performances

Alcina, Opera North review - flat update redeemed by excellent vocal performances

Musically enjoyable but visually prosaic staging, low on magic

Mari Askvik as Bradamante and Máire Flavin as AlcinaAll images by James Glossop

This new production of Handel’s Alcina opens well, with no preamble, the protagonists’ arrival on the island inhabited by the titular sorceress suggested by footage of rushing water projected onto the backdrop.

This is billed as Opera North’s first sustainable production, the costumes, furniture and props all second-hand.

Designer Hannah Clark’s “Heaven on Earth” is little more than a patch of linoleum littered with scruffy office chairs and the characters are in modern dress, their mismatched outfits seemingly sourced from a charity shop. Thankfully, video designer William Galloway’s monochrome visuals are on hand to convey genuine wonder. Arboreal images evolve imperceptibly; blink, and you’re suddenly off the beach and deep in a forest, the density of the foliage neatly mirroring the confusion felt by the opera’s characters. 

Alcina 2So far, so good, but director Tim Albery’s frustrating, only fitfully engaging staging unwittingly suggests that less means less, not more. This applies to Handel’s score, too; conductor Laurence Cumming’s cuts (45 minutes of music and a subsidiary character have been removed) make the opera’s already labyrinthine plot even more baffling. I thought I’d done my prep and duly mugged up on the synopsis beforehand, but there are long stretches in Act One where following exactly what’s happening is a real challenge.

Mari Askvik is an engaging Bradamente, disguised as her own brother and searching for her fiancé Ruggiero. Accompanied by mezzo Claire Pascoe’s Melissa (a role originally given to a bass), she soon discovers that Ruggiero now loves Alcina, and that Alcina’s sister Morgana (Fflur Wyn) has amorous designs upon her, thinking her to be "Ricciardo". Máire Flavin’s Alcina (pictured above right) is terrific, seductive and terrifying, her voice thrilling at when she lets rip. You wouldn’t dare cross her, and we never doubt that she’s capable of transforming Ruggiero into a wild animal when she shifts her attentions to Bradamante. As Ruggiero, counter-tenor Patrick Terry neatly conveys the vulnerability beneath his character’s macho bluster; we’re desperate for him to come to his senses and understand how much danger he’s in. Nick Pritchard’s Oronte, in love with Morgana and enraged that she’s now besotted with Bradamente, seethes and growls like a stroppy adolescent. The continual misunderstandings are the stuff of '70s sitcom and Albery’s direction, coupled with the drab décor, reinforces this.

Alcina stageCummings draws colourful, energised playing from a pared-down orchestra. A pair of theorbos are nicely audible, and there’s some sterling work from flutes and horns. I’ll admit to closing my eyes at several points so as to concentrate purely on the show’s musical pleasures. Flavin excels in the final act, painfully aware that her powers are fading. Bradamante and Ruggiero are reconciled, along with Morgana and Oronte. But the close feels underwhelming, the characters’ relief that Alcina’s reign is over oddly muted. Good vocal performances make this production well worth seeing, but seek out an uncut recording for a better sense of Alcina’s magic.

@GrahamRickson

Oronte seethes and growls like a stroppy adolescent

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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