We live in an era of delusion. As if Facebook hadn’t already given reason to be angry about the spread of fake news, there is now the prospect of an enchanted digital island, a so-called metaverse, in which our illusions, be they benign or malicious, can run free.
Indeed, these are not new ideas. Disguise and enchanted islands were equally catnip for opera composers of Handel’s 18th late opera “Alcina” is an irresistible example of their extravagant fear and attraction. On Tuesday evening, the Los Angeles Opera imported the London-based historical instrument English Concert – led by its artistic director Harry Bicket and a cast of excellent singers – for the first of two concert performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (it will be played again). Friday). It was enough to do the trick.
“Alcina” achieves this with little more than a series of wonderful arias – striking, happy, sweet, angry, amusing, seductive, pastoral, heartbreaking, feverish, mystifying – along with a recitative that shows the unpacking of a gender fair narrative like this one Challenge. If it had been performed in its completion by the English Concert and the singers, the performance would have lasted well over four hours. Slightly trimmed, it reached three hours and 40 minutes in the Chandler.
At the center of this fantasy is the sorceress Alcina, who lures lovers to her island and then transforms them into beasts, rocks or other landscape elements. The dashing knight Ruggiero, who was seduced by Alcina, is freed from her spell by his fiancée Bradamante, who arrives disguised as Alcina’s brother Ricciardo. Alcina’s sister, the likable and fickle Morgana, immediately falls in love with Bradamante, whom she takes for a man. All of these roles are sung by women. (The role of Oberto, a young man whose father had once turned Alcina into a tiger, would also have been played by a woman had the role not been dropped from the show.) What comes out is a feast of song out of four multi-dimensional characters – played by women – who are going through an epic transformation, and two share-type men who do not.
The intended and unintended consequences these revelations have on the characters lead to jealousy, disenchantment, temporary joy – and ultimately devastating injury, apparent triumph, even a pause to admire nature as Aria is performed on this dystopian island Aria follows. It ends with the defeat of Alcina and Morgana. The animals and other parts of the landscape become people again. The lovers Bradamante and Ruggiero are reunited.
But it’s not that easy. Alcina and Morgana get the most extravagant arias. You feel the strongest. You have the most humanity. The banality of evil is too banal for Handel. Although portrayed as a villain, Alcina’s suffering is universal. We see each other, our own disturbed instincts, in her and partly in her companion Morgana. They carry us with you with every memorable aria. No one who sings such compelling and often adorable music with such openness can be that bad. To the right? The true genius of Handel is that we are the deluded.
There are advantages and disadvantages to presenting “Alcina” as a concert performance. The opera had very imaginative productions, a particularly gripping production from Aix-en-Provence six years ago directed by Katie Mitchell, which in the performance is disturbingly confronted with vivid sex and aging; it is available on video. But this approach also distances the audience.
At the Chandler there was the small, captivating virtuoso ensemble who conducted Bicket from the harpsichord and sat with their backs to us in a way that never felt ostentatious. The singers in concert attire didn’t necessarily look or try their roles. Some were more expressive singers than others, but almost always in a conventional way. We were face to face with the music and the drama.
The soprano Karina Gauvin, who sang the role of Morgana in what is probably the most beautiful recording of the opera a dozen years ago, is now a voice hardened Alcina. Gauvin’s power lies in her ability to demonstrate Alcina’s believably intense affection – however insincere – and astonishingly sincere bitterness over rejection.
Meanwhile, the scene-stealing soprano Lucy Crowe finds a fleeting charm in Morgana with every fabulously sung twist. Paula Murrihys Ruggiero is the easy-to-rock fool who is caught by Alcina. But in her nuanced portrayal of a person coming to their senses, the brilliantly focused Irish made Mezzo Ruggiero the most important figure to transform.
Elizabeth DeShong cleverly negotiated the gender characterization of Bradamante. Alek Shrader, as the jealous Oronte (Morgana’s former lover), and Wojtek Gierlach, Bradamante’s teacher and fortune teller, commanded their ungrateful roles.
However, Bicket seemed to be getting out of the way and didn’t seem to get in touch with the singers. Nevertheless, he subtly strengthened singers and instrumentalists so that the hours passed smoothly and easily.
Even so, the set was not ingenious. The massive Chandler is hardly the ideal space for the baroque opera to have the intimacy this piece demands. Almost to the day exactly 35 years ago, in the first month of the first season of the LA Opera (then Music Center Opera), the company moved from the campus of the Music Center in order to effectively stage “Alcina” in the gilded Wiltern Theater.
A possibly enchanted world lay only a few meters away from the Chandler, in the currently dark and perfectly proportioned Mark Taper Forum – whose origins as a chamber music hall would have been well suited to capture the peculiarities of “Alcina”.
Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
When: Friday 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $ 17- $ 149
Info: (213) 972-8001 or laopera.org
Running time: 3 hours, 40 minutes