alcina reviews. In the world of Alcina, appearances can be deceiving. The captives of the eponymous sorceress in Handels’s story of an enchanted island are transformed into various birds, beasts, and bushes, which both highlights the joys and perils of fantasy. The opera, which had its world premiere in 1735 at what is now the Royal Opera House, addresses many of the 18th century’s most pressing concerns, including the legitimacy of outward appearances, the power of theatrical spectacle and illusion, and the influence of con artistry like that of Handels.
Richard Jones, a regular at Covent Garden, joins Opera North’s Tim Albery and Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s Francesco Micheli in staging new productions of operas by Handels this year. His most recent new ROH production, Samson and Delilah, was less than stellar, but in this jovial Alcina, he offers a witty and imaginative interpretation of one of Handels’ finest scores.
Exquisite Work of Art
According to him, a clash between religious restraint and hedonism is at the heart of his narrative. In the prologue, the sorceress uses alcohol to turn a group of somberly dressed Amish or Quakers into a pack of savages. Bradamante must enter this tangle of relationships and jealousies to find Ruggiero, and he must do so in the midst of a storm of impulse and desire.
Antony Mcdonald creates striking and evocative designs that span multiple time periods. As for Alcina’s enchantment, she sprays it out of a massive perfume atomizer; her boudoir is essentially one huge bed dressed in shiny silk sheets and opulent ruched curtains.
Alcinas’s isolation, but also her independence of spirit, and (perhaps) the emptiness of the illusion are all suggested by the bed’s presence onstage alone, though Jones’s production is more nuanced than that. It’s all glittering couture as Alcina Oropesa dons a number of little black dresses and struts in Louboutins.
The toolshed provides the backdrop for a humorous and steamy tryst between Morgana and Oronte, while also providing the island’s denizens with weapons for their move against Alcina. The rolling platforms with garish, fairy-tale trees and bushes create a pastoral setting, with an impact on the eye that is both garishly unreal and strangely seductive (a sort of enlarged Bonsai garden). It’s possible that Alcina’s charges’ combined power is too much for her to handle.
Jones’s work explores the tensions between the synthetic and the natural (an apt intervention for an opera composed in the great era of landscape gardening and crafted semi-wild spaces in pleasure gardens and stately homes). Her Quaker captives are left feeling empty when Alcina’s power is shattered and they are returned to their old selves, dressed in their drab dutiful uniforms. Magic from Alcina gave them a spark of life, reconnecting them with their primal, authentic, physical, and sexual selves.