William Christie returns to Spain with his orchestra Les Arts Florissants in a tour presenting a concert version of Handel’s Ariodante. The tour comes after the successful debut in Vienna in a staging by David McVicar with the same cast, with the notable exception of Sarah Connolly, who was replaced by Kate Lindsey as Ariodante.

Kate Lindsey (Ariodante) © Javier del Real | Teatro Real
Kate Lindsey (Ariodante)
© Javier del Real | Teatro Real

This Ariodante was more a young man in love than a knight or a warrior; her interpretation found its best expression in the lyrical, joyful music. The colour of her voice was deep and burnished, and her coloratura was precise and fast without calling to mind a machine gun. Her projection, however, was not at its best. She attacked “Scherza infida” with the correct intention, but unfortunately, the extremely slow pace chosen by Christie did not help her intonation. This was especially noticeable during the final notes of the musical phrases, which were sometimes attacked from below and adjusted afterwards. However, her interpretation was extremely moving, showing nobility and intense, overwhelming sadness. Her “Dopo notte” was sparkling and flamboyant: one of the highlights of the evening.

Ginevra, Ariodante’s betrothed, was Chen Reiss, whose brilliant, rich soprano did justice to the character. Her confident, full high notes, together with her fast coloratura, served her well in the joyful arias of the first act. But her best moment was in the second act, where she plunged into the most pathetic accents to express the princess’ heartbreaking pain and humiliation. Countertenor Christophe Dumaux had a blessed evening (he seems to have many in this phase of his career) and arguably stole the show as Polinesso, the bad guy who schemes against Ariodante and Ginevra. Dumaux clearly adores the despicable Polinesso, and does his best to seduce the audience into loving him as well. His coloratura was unbelievably precise and exciting, his variations original and daring, but the best feature of his voice was the colour, so much deeper and richer than your average countertenor. With such a rich palette, he managed to paint a three-dimensional person out of one of the most one-dimensional characters of the operatic world.

William Christie © Javier del Real | Teatro Real
William Christie
© Javier del Real | Teatro Real

Hila Fahima’s light, extremely high soprano brought to life a youthful, fresh Dalinda. She showed good technical support and commitment to the character. Her “Neghittosi”, however, lacked emotion: there was no rage, no desire for vengeance. Maybe age can be a factor here; Fahima is very young. Tenor Rainer Trost showed strong and flexible means in the role of Lurcanio, Ariodante’s brother. His interpretation was convincing and heartfelt. Meanwhile, Wilhelm Schwinghammer was not as convincing as the King of Scotland, Ginevra’s father. His voice seemed a bit out of style at times, with a tendency toward booming buoyancy.

Anthony Gregory made the most of the small role of Odoardo with elegance and style. The performance was in semi-staged form: the singers were in concert clothes, but they were not reading from the score. Instead, they acted their parts, resulting in a lively, engaging show. Unfortunately, the concert form meant that the performance was plagued by many cuts. All the ballets were omitted, which may be understandable, and so were the da capo of most arias, which is less understandable. Each singer, except for Kate Lindsey, got at most one aria with the da capo intact.

Kate Lindsey (Ariodante), Wilhelm Schwinghammer (King of Scotland) and Chen Reiss (Ginevra) © Javier del Real | Teatro Real
Kate Lindsey (Ariodante), Wilhelm Schwinghammer (King of Scotland) and Chen Reiss (Ginevra)
© Javier del Real | Teatro Real

The real star of the evening was indeed the orchestra whose luminous, elegant sound is a benchmark for Baroque ensembles around the world. Their playing was simply wonderful. The orchestra was on stage, so we could admire the musicians’ commitment and sense of ensemble. Watching Christie conduct is a privilege: his beautiful, long hands physically shape the musical phrases one by one. He knows when to leave his experienced musicians alone and when to help them in finding the right dynamics or tempi. The orchestra managed, on several occasions, to express the fragmented musical phrases with strong messa di voce typical of Baroque music, weaving them together in the most luxurious legato without betraying the style. Christie’s support of the singers was constant and unfaltering (perhaps with the single exception of “Scherza infida”, as mentioned before, where the tempo was simply too slow for Lindsey). As the singers stood in front of him and couldn’t see him, Christie conducted them with his own breathing and frequently followed their lead for the attacks. The audience warmly cheered their appreciation, sealing a great success for the evening.