Too Much is Never Enough
Alcina is vintage Handel with a succession of show-stopping arias that tell a story of enchantment and romance. Alcina is an all-powerful sorceress, yet she cannot command true love — even in her illusory world of luxurious beauty. Chief Conductor Harry Bicket (Roméo et Juliette, 2016) is on the podium, with sopranos Elza van den Heever (Don Giovanni, 2009) and Anna Christy (The Daughter of the Regiment, 2015) as Alcina and her sister, Morgana. Mezzo-sopranos Daniela Mack (Carmen, 2014) and Paula Murrihy are Ruggiero and Bradamante. Tenor Alek Shrader (The Daughter of the Regiment, 2015) is the valiant Oronte. David Alden (Maometto II, 2012) is the stage director.
The enchantress Alcina’s island: her magic powers have created a magnificent palace in a beautiful landscape, to lure her many lovers into her realm of power. One of these is Ruggiero, a warrior, who under Alcina’s spell has forsaken his duty and his betrothed, Bradamante.
The opera begins with the arrival of Bradamante (disguised as her own brother Ricciardo) and Melisso (her former tutor) on the sea shore. With the help of a magic ring they intend to break the spell which binds Ruggiero to Alcina, and to release her other captives, who have been variously transformed. Bradamante and Melisso are greeted by Alcina’s sister, Morgana (also an enchantress) and pretend to have lost their way. Morgana immediately falls in love with ‘Ricciardo’ (Bradamante), although she is betrothed to Oronte, the commander of Alcina’s forces. The scene changes to Alcina’s palace, where she sits in splendour. She greets the strangers, and lavishly expands on her love for Ruggiero, asking him to show her guests her palace and estates. When she has gone, the boy Oberto asks Melisso and Bradamante to help him to find his father, Asotlfo; it is clear to them (though Oberto is ignorant of it) that he must have been changed into a wild beast, like so many others. Melisso and Bradamante, finding themselves alone with Ruggiero, tax him with his desertion, but he treats them with contempt; he longs only for Alcina’s return, and leaves them.
Oronte, Morgana’s lover, has already discovered her new passion for ‘Ricciardo’, and now challenges ‘him’. Morgana hurries in to intercede, spurning Oronte, and defending ‘Ricciardo’. Later, Oronte meets Ruggiero still looking for Alcina; and in malevolent mood, decides to reveal to him Alcina’s treatment of her past lovers. When Ruggiero refuses to believe in her infidelity, Oronte invents a passion on Alcina’s part for ‘Ricciardo’ to convince him. On finding Alcina, Ruggiero confronts her wih this supposed love; she strongly denies it, and reaffirms her love for Ruggiero, in Bradamante’s presence. After Alcina’s departure, Bradamante cannot resist revealing her identity to Ruggiero, though Melisso quickly denies it. Ruggiero chooses to believe Melisso, and assuming ‘Ricciardo’ to be trying to conceal ‘his’ love for Alcina, boasts that her affections are his alone, and departs. Morgana comes in with the news that Alcina intends to prove her love to Ruggiero by turning ‘Ricciardo’ into a wild beast; Morgana urges ‘him’ to escape, but ‘Ricciardo’ (Bradamante) tells her to go back to Alcina to say that ‘he’ cannot love her, as ‘he’ loves another; when Morgana assumes that this refers to her, Bradamante allows the deception, and withdraws. Morgana concludes the act with rejoicing in ‘Ricciardo’s’ love.
The second act brings the almost immediate revelation to Ruggiero that he is the victim of enchantment. After lamenting Alcina’s absence, Ruggiero is confronted by Melisso, now disguised as his old tutor, Atlante. Ruggiero is sternly reminded of his duty, and when Melisso/Atlante puts the magic ring on his finger, the island is revealed as it really is, empty of all grandeur and beauty. He immediately longs to see Bradamante, and repair the damage caused by Alcina. Melisso, now himself again, tells him of the plans for escape. Ruggiero is to put on his armour, and pretending to long to hunt in the forest, make his escape. Although he is now free of the enchantment, he still mistrusts Alcina; and at his next meeting with Bradamante he cannot be sure that Alcina has not disgusied herself as Bradamante to keep him in her power. Bradamante is in despair; Ruggiero, left alone, fears for the consequences if, after all, he has again failed Bradamante. Morgana interrupts Alcina as she prepares to utter the spell which will turn Bradamante into a wild beast. She is followed by Ruggiero, who, without revealing that he no longer loves her, convinces Alcina that he desires nothing so brutal to convince him of her love. He then persuades her, against her will, to let him go hunting. Oberto reappears, still lamenting his father’s disappearance; Alcina is moved, and offers him hope of reunion. Oronte now brings news of the intentions of Ruggiero, Melisso and Bradamante to flee, and Alcina laments her fate. Although Oronte taunts Morgana with ‘Ricciardo’s’ defection, she refuses to believe him. Bradamante next appears, with Oberto, and swearing him to secrecy, tells him of her power to break Alcina’s spells, and thus release his father. Bradamante and Ruggiero are now at last united; Morgana overhears them, and is outraged to find that ‘Ricciardo’ is Bradamante, and that Alcina has been betrayed by Ruggiero. The act concludes with Alcina’s vain attempts to summon her spirits to prevent Ruggiero’s flight, and she throws away her wand in despair.
The last act opens with Morgana’s efforts to regain the affections of Oronte. As he swore to do earlier, he rebuffs her; but when she has gone, he admits that he still loves her. Ruggiero and Alcina unexpectedly meet, and she demands to know why he is leaving her. When he tells her that he must return to his duty and his betrothed, she contemptuously dismisses him, swearing vengeance. Melisso, Bradamante and Ruggiero prepare to rout Alcina’s forces with the magic ring and shield; Bradamante swears to leave the island only when all Alcina’s victims are released. Oronte next informs Alcina that her navy has indeed been defeated at the hands of Ruggiero; aside, he expresses satisfaction that Alcina is at last going to pay dearly for her cruelty. Alcina, in despair, longs for oblivion. When Oberto reminds her of her promise to reunite him with his father, she maliciously brings a lion out of its cage, and orders Oberto to kill it with her dagger. He knows it must be his father and, refusing, threatens her instead, before retreating with the dagger. The final stage begins with Ruggiero and Bradamante approaching an urn, source of all Alcina’s magic power, intending to destroy it. In an attempt to prevent them, Alcina forswears any evil intentions, claiming only desire for their happiness. She offers to break the urn herself; but she has lost all hope of being trusted, and Ruggiero duly shatters the enchanted urn. Alcina and Morgana rush away, lamenting their doom.
The end of Alcina’s magic powers causes the palace to be ruined and submerged by the sea. Alcina’s bewitched lovers are revived, Oberto and Astolfo are reunited, and all sing of their relief and joy. Melisso warns Ruggiero that he cannot just leave; Alcina still wields immense power, and he should cover his escape by telling her that he wishes to go hunting. Ruggiero agrees, but, thoroughly bewildered by the magic and illusion surrounding him, he refuses to believe his eyes when he at last sees Bradamante as herself, believing that she may be another of Alcina's illusions. Bradamante is in despair, as is Alcina. Convinced of Ruggiero's indifference, she enters to turn Ricciardo into an animal, and Ruggiero has to pull himself together quickly and convince the sorceress that he does not need any proof of her love. It is at this point that the audience realises that Alcina genuinely loves Ruggiero; from now until the end of the opera, she is depicted sympathetically. Oronte realizes that Ricciardo, Melisso and Ruggiero are in some sort of alliance, and Morgana and Alcina realise they are being deceived. But it is too late: Alcina's powers depend on illusion and, as true love enters her life, her magic powers slip away. As the act ends, Alcina tries to call up evil spirits to stop Ruggiero from leaving her, but her magic fails her.
Performed at The Crosby Theatre
George Frideric Handel
Instant Translation Screen
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No one can resist the sorceress spells of Alcina. Handel's music invites a variety of allegorical interpretations, sung with an expansive emotional range of powerful vocal prowess.
Elza van den Heever
Christian Van Horn
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Magic in the Music
Before there was Golda, before there was Angela, before Mrs. Thatcher and Hillary, there was Alcina— the powerful sorceress who reigns over an exotic island realm of sybaritic delights with her sister, Morgana, in Handel’s spectacular Alcina.
Though she freely trifles with the lives of others, Alcina herself is not to be crossed. By the time we meet her, she has already been corrupted by power and excess, transforming a succession of lovers into rocks, animals, and rivers after tiring of them. Luxuries without limit surround her and her subjects, but these are mere illusion; the island’s lush beauty conceals a landscape as barren as Alcina’s heart. She can have whatever she wants except the things she needs and lacks most: loyalty, human warmth, true love freely given.
Drawn from Ludovico Ariosto’s colorful tales in Orlando Furioso, Alcina transports us to a world of chivalry in which the valiant knight Ruggiero, having ventured onto Alcina’s island despite its dangers, has fallen under her spell. In his new life as Alcina’s enchanted lover, Ruggiero has forgotten the realities of his previous identity — including his fiancée, Bradamante. When Bradamante sets out in pursuit of Ruggiero’s freedom with his former tutor at her side, she places herself in a path of confrontation with the formidable Alcina. Though Bradamante does not have Alcina’s mastery of the black arts, she does have the heart of a warrior. Bradamante’s courageous quest not only reunites her with Ruggiero, freeing him from Alcina’s domination, but also results in the downfall of both of the tyrannical sisters who imprisoned him, restoring the virtues and truths of heart that were absent from Alcina’s magical realm.
Heightened by magic and spectacle, this romantic adventure brims with the jewel-like melodies and rhythmic energy that we expect from the composer of The Messiah. But by placing its lovers in extraordinary predicaments and confrontations, Ariosto’s story also gives Handel a chance to demonstrate his dramatic gifts. Alcina’s many arias are empathic and psychologically insightful in a way that is surprisingly modern. They create a musical tapestry spanning the full range of human emotion, from tender longing to monarchial range.
The title role of this masterwork calls for a soprano with the vocal speed and flexibility for Baroque singing style, yet with a voice of sufficient size and color to fit a monarch…a soprano like Elza van den Heever (Don Giovanni, 2009), our Alcina and recently the Metropolitan Opera’s Queen Elizabeth I in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. Portraying her sister Morgana is Anna Christy (The Daughter of the Regiment, 2015). Ruggiero is sung by mezzo-soprano and former SFO apprentice Paula Murrihy (Die Fledermaus, 2016); his fiancée, Bradamante, by mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack (Carmen, 2014). Tenor Alek Shrader (The Daughter of the Regiment, 2015) is Oronte, the lover of Morgana. Director David Alden’s acclaimed production, first seen at Bordeaux in 2012, turns Alcina’s island into a theatre, drawing audiences into a stage-within-a-stage atmosphere. Musical direction is by Chief Conductor Harry Bicket (Roméo et Juliette, 2016).
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