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Work: Alcina

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Fact file
ComposerHandel, George Frideric (1685-1759)
PeriodBaroque
Year1735
Work typeOpera / Oratorio
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ZürichAlcina

© Monika Rittershaus
Handel: Alcina
Giovanni Antonini; Christof Loy; Zurich Opera; Johannes Leiacker; Ursula Renzenbrink; Cecilia Bartoli; Magdalena Kožená

LeedsAlcinaNew production

Alcina
Handel: Alcina
Laurence Cummings; Tim Albery; Opera North; Hannah Clark; Máire Flavin; Patrick Terry

NottinghamAlcinaNew production

Alcina
Handel: Alcina
Laurence Cummings; Tim Albery; Opera North; Hannah Clark; Máire Flavin; Patrick Terry

SalfordAlcinaNew production

Alcina
Handel: Alcina
Laurence Cummings; Tim Albery; Opera North; Hannah Clark; Máire Flavin; Patrick Terry

Newcastle upon TyneAlcinaNew production

Alcina
Handel: Alcina
Laurence Cummings; Tim Albery; Opera North; Hannah Clark; Máire Flavin; Patrick Terry
Latest reviewsSee more...

Alcina’s Hotel California at Salzburg's Whitsun festival

Cecilia Bartoli (Alcina) and Angelika Nieder (Old Alcina) © Salzburg Festival | Matthias Horn
Michieletto presents an engaging new production where magic and reality reflect each other through a mirror, and humans are exposed in all their vulnerability.
****1
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Handel's Alcina in Karlsruhe: a great production with great singing

Lauren Fagan (Alcina) © Felix Grünschloß
Handel's Alcina at the Karlsruhe 2019 Handel Festival scores on all fronts, with two Australians taking the main roles. 
****1
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Christof Loy’s Alcina still bewitches in Hamburg

Agneta Eichenholz (Alcina), Narea Son (Oberto) and Franco Fagioli (Ruggiero) © Hans Jörg Michel
The 2002 production of Handel’s masterpiece is revived with a solid cast under the baton of Riccardo Minasi.
****1
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Magical musicianship, but drab direction

Mirella Hagen (Morgana) and Rainer Trost (Oronte) © Herwig Prammer
Marlis Petersen's Alcina bloomed for a knockout “Ah! mio cor!” just in time for intermission.
***11
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Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered

Elsa van den Heever (Alcina) © Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2017
David Alden's staging of Alcina mines the rich theatricality of one of Handel's best-loved operas with enchanting but also perplexing results. 
****1
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Biography

In 1734 Handel and his manager Heidegger lost the lease on the King’s Theatre in London, ending that rich period in British opera known as the Royal Academy of Music. Handel’s rivals took over the theatre, and most of his star artists. When John Rich offered Handel the use of his new theatre at Covent Garden twice a week, the stakes were very high.

Handel answered his rivals with a magnificent season in 1735-6, including two revivals, a pastiche opera with hit arias from earlier successes, and two wonderful new operas: Ariodante and Alcina, as well as three oratorios. This achievement compares to peaks he had reached a decade earlier at the King’s Theatre, with Giulio Cesare, Rodelinda and Tamerlano; arguably these two seasons were the most remarkable ever created in Britain. Alcina was a particular success, sustaining 18 performances in that season.

Though inspired by a story from Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso, Handel’s libretto (based on the text of an opera produced in Rome a few years earlier) is a very free adaptation. The sorceress Alcina, who shares centre stage with her mortal lover Ruggiero, is a deeply drawn character, taking the simple story in new directions. Her splendid arias, a reward to the faithful soprano Anna Strada del Po, surprise and enthral the listener just as she enslaves her lovers. Beside her, the ardent lover and errant husband Ruggiero, written for Carestini, a leading castrato (who also created the role of Ariodante), can at first seem passive; indeed, the singer famously sent back to Handel one deceptively simple aria, the nostalgic ‘Verdi prati’, but Handel ordered him to sing it as written. His role is full of elegant, subtle touches and psychological complexities, crowned by the brilliance of his Act 3 aria with horns, ‘Sta nell’Ircana.’

The other characters are not stinted wonderful music: even the bass Gustavus Waltz, who seems to have doubled as Handel’s cook, gets a spacious, stirring aria. Alcina’s sister Morgana (first played by Cecilia Young) has a terrific expression of joy at the end of Act 1, the celebrated show-stopper ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’, as well as a pair of heartfelt arias with violin and cello obbligato; her rejected suitor Oronte, originally sung by the young British tenor John Beard, has three light arias of great charm, utterly distinct in style. The fascinating part of the rejected wife Bradamante has distinctive music, too, low lying and solid but with brilliant coloratura display.

Like Teseo, Alcina has at its heart an enchantress who loves a mortal and who, rejected, exacts lonely, futile revenge. Alcina is one of Handel’s most wonderful creations: truly seductive, she invokes in every listener to pity and terror. Her love for Ruggiero is devouring, at least until his long-lost wife reappears. The battle for the heart and soul of Ruggiero is fought between sensuality and duty, between the taste of the present and the insistent sound of memory. No other opera is such an attractive – and clinical – examination of love and illusion.


These notes and the photo were kindly contributed by English Touring Opera for their 2009 production of Alcina.