The staging of Handel’s Alcina presents a challenge and from what I saw tonight, the jury is still out; if we focus instead on the delivery of some of the finest vocal writing ever written and all-round musicality, then this performance should be considered a success.
Searching for her fiancé Ruggiero (Patrick Terry), Bradamante (Mari Askvik) arrives on an island belonging to the enchantress Alcina (Sky Ingram). Bradamante has adopted the disguise of her own brother, Ricciardo, and is accompanied by her protector, Melissa (Claire Pascoe).
Alcina’s sister, Morgana (Fflur Wyn), instantly falls in love with ‘Ricciardo’ despite already being in a relationship with Oronte (Nick Pritchard), whilst Bradamante is distraught when she discovers Ruggiero and Alcina are lovers. Within this medley of deception and disguise, we explore love and loss amidst an emotional awakening, before reaching a mysteriously magical conclusion.
Director Tim Albery has heavily cut the original and, with an emphasis on its human drama, reshaped it into two acts adding up to a manageable two and a half hours, excluding interval, which feels about right for the modern audience. In a play replete with misunderstandings, it is very easy to go wrong but this production held our attention well in the telling with its moments of subtle humour duly appreciated.
Sadly, this was not the only cut since whilst commendably presented as Opera North’s first sustainable production and a milestone on their journey to reducing their carbon footprint, it resulted in a somewhat confusing set and staging.
I liked the choice of monochrome costume with a touch of sparkle which, combined with the androgenous nature of the Bradamante/Ricciardo character, initially brought to mind 1920’s Berlin. This thought was soon dispelled as Ian Galloway’s video backdrop took hold, transporting us to an island of dreams before commencing a somewhat oppressive jungle adventure. The frequent screen shift combined with a yo-yoing lighting rig unfortunately became more of a distraction to the action on stage, which was already under threat from a set of airport-style lounging chairs and a bearskin rug: perhaps a little less recycling and a focus on a single thematic interpretation would be in order.
Whilst the emotional triangles were played out, the main one – Alcina; Ruggiero; Bradamante – lacked a certain something which was heightened further by its contrast with the natural chemistry effusing from the pairing of Wyn’s Morgana and Pritchard’s Oronte who were a delight to watch, with both delivering touching performances tinged with the right balance of emotion and humour throughout the evening.
Whilst Askvik’s Bradamante was the epitome of confusion and disdain towards unfolding events, it resulted in a somewhat subdued performance. Terry grew into Ruggiero and delivered some moving solos, whilst Pascoe, despite her limited vocal opportunities, was very much a presence in proceedings as the magical and mystical Melissa, a hybrid interpretation of the originally written Melisso.
A real highlight of the night was Ingram who as a late replacement due to the indisposition of Máire Flavin, stepped up and seized her moment with a strong vocal performance filled with passion and anger in equal measure.
The accompanying reduced-size orchestra was a delight as conductor Laurence Cumming led us on a merry and joyful dance through the subtle melodies which embody the emotion and energy of the piece at every turn, with a harpsichord and two theorbos reflecting the spirit of the original score written some 300 years ago.
Alcina is one of Opera North’s current touring productions, full details at https://www.operanorth.co.uk/whats-on
As with all their touring productions, tonight’s performance began with the orchestra playing the Ukrainian national anthem and the audience stood as one as we acknowledged the resilience and courage on display in recent days.
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 9th March 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★