Classical review: Alcina

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An impressive staging of a fine opera, reports David Denton.

Though Handel’s opera, Alcina, is regarded as one of his finest works for the stage, the opportunity to see it remains a rare and major event. Ryedale Festival have commissioned a highly effective production from Nina Brazier who has kept everything simple and in modern dress, the two performances at Ampleforth College preceding a short tour.

She had a fine cast of young singers whose diction was so immaculate as to clarify the highly improbable and convoluted story set on Alcina’s enchanted island, her sorcery changing discarded lovers into animals or inanimate objects. It is a gorgeous score almost overflowing with beautiful arias, the American soprano, Cherise Lagasse, negotiated the vocal acrobatics with admirable ease, though it was the tenor, Joel Williams, and soprano, Robyn Allegra Parton, in the secondary roles as the lovers, Oronte and Morgana, who really stole the show. After a few uneasy moments in the opening sinfonia, the young period instrument ensemble from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was outstanding, the conductor and harpsichordist, Ian Tindale, kept the action moving at an admirable pace, the original extended ballet being omitted as is usual nowadays.

The Festival opened in the fine acoustics of Pickering’s historic church with Septura, probably today’s leading European brass group. Their programme mixed Baroque and 20th century music, a taste of their trademark refinement and sheer unabashed virtuosity. Absolutely fabulous.