When Handel composed Ariodante in 1735, he had access to some of the best opera singers in the world, and his vocal writing made full use of their various talents. Looking into his futuroscope, he would have been amazed and delighted, I'm sure, that the progress in singing has been such his opera could be sung by music college students – however prestigious the music college.
But for all the virtuosity, it was only on a few occasions did the performance connect with my emotions. The chart-topper, as it should be, was "Scherza infida" in Act II: as Katie Coventry, in the title role, swerved between fury and desolation at Ginevra's desolation, I was transported, for the first time, from the confines of the theatre and into the world of deep passions.
In a great part, that's because the singers weren't getting a lot of help either from the conductor or the director. Under Laurence Cummings, the London Handel Orchestra were vivid, sprightly, full of colour. But the pace always felt slightly rushed – or, more to the point, one sensed that the singers felt it to be so: they struggled to make room for expansive lyricsm, and Ariodante is a poorer opera if shorn of its many changes of pace. And while I agree that it's essential to make cuts in Ariodante – even after cuts, the opera was three and a half hours – cutting all the dance numbers does radically change the opera's balance.
In sum, an impressive showcase for Handel's music and for the RCM's singing expertise. But I hoped for more.
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