Alcina (Opera North)
March 17 2022 (touring to Newcastle March 24)
Theatre Royal, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Opera North’s stylish Alcina: a feast for the ears but not the eyes
Opera North’s production of Handel’s Alcina has a lot to live up to. The opera was one of its composer’s greatest hits when first produced in the 1730s – and it’s not hard to see why. Even if the original audiences didn’t appreciate Handel’s music, there was all the spectacle which the story promised. The title character is a sorceress whose speciality is turning people into wild animals and rocks, the plot involving all sorts of magic trickery which would have been great fun for the stage technicians of the time to devise. Stage directions include thunder, lightning, an enchanted palace, a subterranean vault and a menagerie of wild beasts that ‘pad to and fro’ in their cages. At the end victims are changed back into human beings and it all ends in a rather jolly song and dance routine.
Except that it doesn’t in Tim Albery’s production for Opera North. There’s no Chorus and sadly no dancing. Handel’s score is cut, the dancing just one of the casualties. And despite all the wonders of modern technology there is just about no magic. This does beg the question of why bother to stage this particular opera, rather than giving in a concert performance. There is a large screen upon which are projected images of the enchanted isle, its beaches and tropical forests, but the set itself is unchanging and somewhat dull. There are plenty of green easy chairs and a lionskin rug but nothing else to get the pulse racing, except for a bit of undressing, furniture arranging – and frustrated disembowelling of a cushion.
So out goes the magic and in comes a chamber opera focusing on the inner life of the characters. This meant that the focus fell on the skills of the principal singers – and on the playing of the orchestra.
The singing was impressive throughout. The most taxing role must be that of the knight Ruggiero sung by the young American counter-tenor Patrick Terry. It was no mean feat to sing with such precision and beauty of tone for so long. The audience reserved their loudest cheers for him and for Máire Flavin as Alcina, a commanding (and seductive) vocal and physical presence. But there was plenty of stylish, elegant singing elsewhere: from Fllur Wynn as a clear-voiced Morgana and from Mari Askvik as a jewel-like Bradamante. Claire Pascoe (as Melissa) and Nick Pritchard (as Oronte) also shone. Laurence Cummings coaxed stylish, sensitive playing from his musicians, keeping the textures transparent and rhythms buoyant.
It is wonderful that Handel operas are now once again fully part of the operatic repertoire after centuries of neglect. Opera North presents three hours of glorious music in their Alcina. It’s just a pity that what they serve up in this production isn’t as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the ears.
Alcina Máire Flavin
Ruggiero Patrick Terry
Bradamante Mari Askvik
Morgana Fflur Wyn
Oronte Nick Pritchard
Melissa Claire Pascoe
Orchestra of Opera North
Conductor Laurence Cummings
Director Tim Albery
Set and Costume
Designer Hannah Clark
Lighting Designer Matthew Richardson
Video Designer Ian Galloway