Calendar
ALL SHOWS ARE PERFORMED AT THE MONTE CARLO OPERA
January 2023
Friday
20 January
19 H (Gala)

Opera
Subscription Galas
Alcina
Haendel
Sunday
22 January
15 H

Opera
Subscription Matinées
Alcina
Haendel
Tuesday
24 January
19 H

Opera
Subscription Soirées
Alcina
Haendel
Wednesday
25 January
20 H

Choral concert
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Stabat Mater
Rossini
Thursday
26 January
19 H

Opera
Alcina
Haendel
February 2023
Sunday
19 February
15 H

Opera
Subscription Matinées
Andrea Chénier
Giordano
Tuesday
21 February
20 H (Gala)

Opera
Subscription Galas
Andrea Chénier
Giordano
Thursday
23 February
20 H

Opera
Subscription Soirées
Andrea Chénier
Giordano
Saturday
25 February
20 H

Opera
Andrea Chénier
Giordano
March 2023
Friday
10 March
20 H

Recital
Subscription Soirées
Daniel Barenboim
Friday
17 March
20 H (Gala)

Opera
Subscription Galas
La traviata
Verdi
Sunday
19 March
15 H

Opera
Subscription Matinées
La traviata
Verdi
Monday
20 March
20 H

Opera by the Vienna Staatsoper
Subscription Galas
Le nozze di Figaro
Mozart
Tuesday
21 March
20 H

Opera
La traviata
Verdi
Thursday
23 March
20 H

Opera
Subscription Soirées
La traviata
Verdi
April 2023
Sunday
16 April
15 H

Opera
Subscription Matinées
Il barbiere di Siviglia
Rossini
Monday
17 April
20 H

Puppet opera
Subscription Soirées
L’Orfeo
Monteverdi
Tuesday
18 April
20 H (Gala)

Opera
Subscription Galas
Il barbiere di Siviglia
Rossini
Thursday
20 April
20 H

Opera
Subscription Soirées
Il barbiere di Siviglia
Rossini
Saturday
22 April
20 H

Opera
Il barbiere di Siviglia
Rossini
Haendel
Alcina
20, 22, 24 & 26 January 2023
Opera
Conductor Gianluca Capuano
Director Christof Loy

Haendel Alcina

Opera
Friday 20 January 2023 - 19 h (Gala)
Sunday 22 January 2023 - 15 h
Tuesday 24 January 2023 - 19 h
Thursday 26 January 2023 - 19 h
Opéra de Monte-Carlo

Dramma per musica in three acts
Music by Georg Friedrich Handel (1685-1759)
Anonymous libretto, adapted from L'isola di Alcina by Riccardo Broschi (1728) 
based on Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (songs VI and VII)
Premiere: London, Covent Garden, 16 April 1735

Premiere at the Monte Carlo Opera in a staged version

Coproduction with the Zurich Opera House
 

A work of enchantment, music and dance, Handel’s Alcina only reappeared briefly in the 20th century in 1928 before experiencing a real renaissance in the 1960s. Beyond these first literal readings, how can the 21st century nourish our perception of this work?

Stage director Christof Loy, whose production of Ariodante was seen on the Monegasque stage in 2019, transforms Alcina’s magical kingdom into a metaphor for theatre. His idea, which allows him to explore a wide scope of options, is built around the singer taking on the title role, Cecilia Bartoli. Capable of expressing all the layers of identity that are superimposed, she offers here all the multiplicity of her incarnation: she is at the same time the character of Alcina but also a singer anchored in her status as a diva. This concept of theatre within the theatre is wonderfully enhanced by the sumptuous sets of Johannes Leiacker and the subtle costumes of Ursula Renzenbrink, enhanced by the lighting of Bernd Purkrabek. Surrounding the main character and led by the idiomatic baton of Gianluca Capuano, we find the finest performers of this repertoire, which requires absolute technical and musical mastery without forgetting a perfect theatrical sensitivity.

Videos

2 ©OMC - Cassette vidéo
Production team
Conductor | Gianluca Capuano
Director | Christof Loy
Sets | Johannes Leiacker
Costume design | Ursula Renzenbrink
Lighting design | Bernd Purkrabek
Choreography | Thomas Wilhelm
Cast
Alcina | Cecilia Bartoli
Ruggiero | Philippe Jaroussky
Morgana | Sandrine Piau
Bradamante | Varduhi Abrahamyan
Oronte | Maxim Mironov
Melisso | Péter Kálmán
Cupido | Katharine Sehnert
Les musiciens du Prince – Monaco
Artists' biographies
Artistic and technical teams

LES MAÎTRES D’ŒUVRE

Chef d'orchestre
Gianluca Capuano

Metteur en scène
Christof Loy

Assistant à la mise en scène
Heiko Hentschel

Décors
Johannes Leiacker

Costumes
Ursula Renzenbrink

Lumières
Bernd Purkrabek

Assistant aux lumières
Dino Strucken

Chorégraphie
Thomas Wilhelm

Assistant à la chorégraphie
Joe Monaghan

Chef de chant
So Young Sim

SOLISTES

Alcina
Cecilia Bartoli

Morgana
Sandrine Piau

Ruggiero
Philippe Jaroussky

Bradamante
Varduhi Abrahamyan

Oronte
Maxim Mironov

Melisso
Péter Kálmán

Cupido
Katharine Sehnert

PETITS RÔLES
Galia Bakalov, soprano
Vincenzo Cristofoli, baryton
Salvatore Taiello, ténor

DANSEURS
Stefano De Luca
Oskar Eon
Erick Odriozola
Rouven Pabst
Lukasz Przytarski
Anatole Zangs

FIGURANTS
Peter Bateson
Albert Braquetti
Thierry Hesme
Jean-François Loppin
Alain Louis-Jacquet
Mario Marrone
Paola Scaltriti

LES MUSICIENS DU PRINCE – MONACO

Violons I
Enrico Casazza (leader)
Ágnes Kertész
Muriel Quistad
Roberto Rutkauskas
Agnes Stradner
Anna Urpina Rius
Andrea Vassalle

Violons II
Francesco Colletti (leader)
Laura Cavazzuti
Svetlana Fomina
Reyes Gallardo
Diego Moreno Castelli
Massimo Percivaldi

Altos
Diego Mecca (leader)
Erica Alberti
Patricia Gagnon
Bernadette Verhagen

Violoncelles
Marco Frezzato (leader)
Nicola Brovelli
Anna Camporini
Antonio Carlo Papetti

Contrebasses
Roberto Fernández De Larrinoa (leader)
Clotilde Guyon

Flûtes à bec
Marco Scorticati (leader)
Benny Aghassi

Hautbois
Andrea Mion (leader)
Guido Campana

Basson
Benny Aghassi

Cors
Erwin Wieringa (leader)
Dileno Baldin

Orgue et clavecin
Davide Pozzi

Clavecin
Gabriele Levi

Théorbes
Miguel Rincon Rodriguez (leader)
Elisa La Marca

Harpe
Marta Graziolino

Percussions
Paolo Nocentini

PERSONNEL DE SCÈNE

Régie

Directeur de scène
Xavier Laforge

Régisseur principal
Elisabetta Acella

Régisseur
Jérôme Chabreyrie

Régisseur d’orchestre
Nicolas Payan

Régisseur lumières
Ferxel Fourgon

Régisseur sur-titrage
Sarah Caussé

Technique

Directeur technique
Vincent Payen

Chef machiniste
Carlos Grenier

Chef machiniste adjoint
Olivier Kinoo

Sous-chefs machinistes
Yann Moreau
Franck Satizelle

Techniciens de plateau
Schama Imbert
Khalid Negraoui
Laurent Barcelo
Frédéric Laugier
Jean-Philippe Faraut
Thomas Negrevergne
Jean-François Faraut
David M'Bappé
Axel Gbedo
Morgan Dubouil

Chef électricien
Benoît Vigan

Chef électricien adjoint
Gaël Le Maux

Techniciens lumière
Nicolas Alcaraz
Grégory Campanella
Ludovic Druit
Felipe Manrique
Laurent Renaux

Pupitreurs
Grégory Masse
Dylan Castori

Responsable audio/vidéo
Benjamin Grunler

Chef accessoiriste
Audrey Moravec

Accessoiristes
Heathcliff Bonnet
Franck Escobar
Roland Biren
Nicolas Leroy

Chef costumière-habilleuse
Eliane Mezzanotte

Chef costumière-habilleuse adjointe
Emilie Bouneau

Sous-chef costumière-habilleuse adjointe
Véronique Tetu

Habilleurs
Christian Calviera
Nadine Cimbolini
Lili Fortin
Edwige Galli
Julie Jacquet
Stéphanie Putegnat
Florence Rinaldino
Lauriane Senet

Chef perruquière
Déborah Nelson

Perruquiers
Jean-Pierre Gallina
Corinne Paulé
Francine Richard
Marilyn Rieul

Maquilleurs
Alicia Bovis
Sophie Kilian 
Sofia Motta 
Rémy Rebaudo 

Synopsis

Synopsis

Ruggiero has encountered Queen Alcina, who has completely enslaved him. Her kingdom is a magical realm of beauty, illusion and deception of the senses. Under Alcina’s spell, Ruggiero has entirely forgotten his previous life and abandoned his wife, Bradamante. Alcina herself, who has until now treated love as a mere game and only toyed with men, has been overcome with a profound, hitherto unknown passion for Ruggiero.  In the company of Melisso, a mutual friend, Bradamante has set off to find Ruggiero and is determined to win him back. In order to protect herself, she has donned male garb and is masquerading as her twin brother Ricciardo.

 

Act one

Bradamante and Melisso have found their way to Alcina’s kingdom. They encounter Morgana, Alcina’s younger sister, who immediately falls in love with the person she assumes to be the youth Ricciardo. She leads the strangers to Alcina and Ruggiero. Bradamante is pained to see that Ruggiero does not recognise her – indeed, that he seems to have completely forgotten her. The fact that Oronte, Morgana’s lover, also sees Bradamante as a man and hence a potential rival leads to further complications. Oronte would like to rid himself of his rival and maligns him with Ruggiero, whom he tells that Alcina has a new lover and that the man in question is Ricciardo, who has only recently arrived. Jealousy is soon aroused, causing the first rift between Alcina and Ruggiero. In the meantime, Morgana confesses her love for the youth Ricciardo. Bradamante does not know what to do. Abandoned by her husband Ruggiero, she continues to play the male role she has adopted, and allows Morgana to believe that her love is requited.

 

Act two

Melisso, meanwhile, has succeeded in reminding Ruggiero of his former life and of Bradamante. Ruggiero gradually realises that he has given himself up in his love for Alcina, that his love has made him blind, and that he has succumbed to deception. Alcina and her entire realm now appear to him as an illusion. Soon he also recognises Bradamante, and the couple decides to leave Alcina’s kingdom. Alcina also awakens from her illusions: Ruggiero will abandon her to solitude. She is now ready to fight for her love with every means at her disposal. Morgana has also realised that Bradamante is not Ricciardo at all, but Ruggiero’s wife. This process is painful for all the lovers; dreams good and bad are explained; and a new day dawns.

 

Act three

Morgana is reconciled with her former lover Oronte. Both of them are able to look each other in the eye. Alcina, who until now has always wanted to live in the moment, now clings to the illusion of eternal love. She cannot let Ruggiero go, and intends to continue to play her role as the irresistible, invincible queen. Ruggiero finds his way back to his former world, in which the roles of men and women seem clear: a world in which men must be heroes. To prove his heroism, Bradamante expects Ruggiero to destroy Alcina and her kingdom. Once Ruggiero is prepared to do so, Alcina’s empire – the realm of beauty, sensuality, illusion and poetry – falls. But Alcina is a fairy, and fairies cannot die.

About Alcina...

The last part of Ariosto’s trilogy, Alcina combines the supernatural powers of Orlando with the sentimental introspection of Ariodante. Ariosto’s magical dimension infuses the entire score, blending all the arts, even if the artifice here is only a reflection of the illusory powers of a magician enslaved by love. If Alcina is the greatest Handelian heroine, it is also because she is a dual character, chasing true love as if it were a chimera, a magician in her own kingdom who turns her lovers into animals for fear of loving. From this point of view, Alcina is indeed Ariodante’s female twin, two opposite forms for the same sentimental introspection. But this time Handel avoids any attempt at deconstruction and ends up painting feelings in the purest opera seria style, restoring the primacy of music over drama. With Alcina, he brought opera into the adult age of modern theatre, opening the way to a new psychology. Not only is Alcina him, the artist who could not, nor knew how to, love or be loved. But it is also the admission, through the end of the spells of the performance, that the opera is no more. Alcina’s last romantic fires are all the more beautiful because they have a taste of ashes, this time truly announcing the end of opera seria in London. A self-portrait of the artist as a fallen diva, like all myths, Alcina is reborn at each performance. What remains one of the most beautiful roles in the female opera repertoire, with its six masterful arias, has never ceased to inspire the greatest divas, such as Cecilia Bartoli. The strength of Christof Loy’s approach is to place the diva and the theatre itself in abyss in order to better serve the myth of what remains without doubt the most secretly intimate work of its composer.

Interview with Christof Loy

Christof Loy

Love makes us vulnerable
 

Christof Loy, this is your third production of Handel's opera Alcina. Why do you have such a predilection for this work?

It's a bit of fate that I'm asked to direct Alcina so often. To tell the truth, I feel just as attracted to Ariodante and Orlando, the two other works based on Ariosto's epic Orlando furioso that Handel composed in London within three years. It is in these three works, in my opinion, that he was able to bring out the psychological profile of his characters to perfection. The way in which a whole world is revealed to us is particularly moving to me.

 

What do you mean by that?

Alcina often reminds me of Shakespeare's plays, in which tragic abysses and light-hearted scenes follow one another, but in which the dominant feeling is one of melancholy. The ambiguous atmosphere that reigns there oscillates between the comic and tragic genres. The same applies to Alcina, a magical opera that transports the audience into a fantasy world. The gender confusion found in Shakespearean plays such as Twelfth Night or As You Like It is also used in Alcina. This is a common use in theatre to ask general questions about oneself and others.

 

Do you see any other links with Shakespeare?

Handel does not express any value judgements about his characters. All the complexity and diversity of life is represented in his theatrical world. The characters are sculpted with such intensity that it is difficult for the audience to take a clear stand. Of course, we inevitably feel attracted to Alcina, we sympathise and identify with her suffering as an abandoned woman, even if we must admit objectively that she would look very bad in court. As for Ruggiero, at the end of the opera we are delighted to see him regain his initial vitality, yet at the same time we are reminded of Alcina's dark fate. In the midst of this whirlwind of emotions and wounds, one cannot distinguish between perpetrators and victims.

 

Ruggiero, a crusader in Ariosto's work, washes up on the shores of Alcina's kingdom after an adventurous journey. 

I recognise a figure close to that of Wilhelm Meister, the hero of Goethe's apprenticeship novel. I see Ruggiero as a young man who refuses to accept reality during his years of apprenticeship: Alcina's enchanting island is an unreal and fickle world in which he loses his virtues and some of his identity. He behaves like a pumpkin in the heart of a chimera. I can well imagine that Ruggiero, a relatively ordinary young man who returns to the ranks at the end of the opera, may later look back with nostalgia on a world less limited than his normalized, rational and moralistic world.

 

 ... all the values embodied by Bradamante, Ruggiero's wife.

True. However, Bradamante and her sidekick Melisso, at first strangers to Alcina's kingdom, will also have to question themselves and have the opportunity to broaden their horizons and enrich their experiences. When they arrive, they no longer know who they are, what they are, and are overwhelmed by the beauty of the place. However, both characters gain more and more power in this imaginary world, so much so that, at the end, we have the impression that it is Alcina who no longer finds her place in this universe.

 

You have described Alcina's island as an unreal and unstable world. What repercussions does this have in terms of staging?

This unreality and the parallels and thematic links with Goethe's Wilhelm Meister led me to choose the form of baroque theatre as a metaphorical representation of Alcina's island kingdom: a world of illusions, a reflection of reality that can be interpreted positively or negatively, depending on the perspective one adopts.

 

What role does Alcina play in this shimmering illusory world?

Alcina reminds me of the silent film diva Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard: she cannot distinguish the border between reality and the scenes she plays. Similarly, Alcina has a habit of faking her feelings in order to manipulate others. Until now, she has never cared about the fate of the men she used to satisfy her lust before letting them down. When she meets Ruggiero, it is she who becomes a victim of her own feelings. As the action unfolds, Alcina discovers that she is, at heart, an extremely vulnerable woman; she finally begins to understand that everything she has created is completely illusory and as fragile as her relationship with Ruggiero.

 

This bitter experience brings Alcina closer to Mozart's opera Così fan tutte...

I always come back to the same observation: all the characters in the play realise through new encounters that love is not simple, that it makes us vulnerable and that it can lead us to the edge of the abyss. This sense of instability is particularly evident in the second act, in which two couples, Alcina and Ruggiero on the one hand, and Morgana and Bradamante disguised as a man on the other, have to sort out the nature of their relationship. In Così fan tutte, this thread is woven throughout the opera: feelings are constantly being questioned - either out of surprise when the feeling is new, or out of fear of falling truly in love and therefore fear of being hurt. I am repeatedly amazed at how much empathy and understanding Handel must have had for women. It's hard to imagine him being benevolent when you see the portraits of him as a big, lanky man, or if you believe the allegations that he was an angry theatre director. Of course, we have little information about Handel's private life, but I am sure that he was an excellent observer and that he was introspective.

 

The production of Alcina was marked by the bitter rivalry between Covent Garden and the Opera of the Nobility. However, Handel did not give in to the pressure and ease of composing bravura pieces for effect only. His characters put the sincere portrayal of emotions first.

Handel knew exactly what he wanted to express. Take Alcina, for example: each of her six arias has its own character; at the same time, the pieces as a whole contribute to a finely chiselled portrait of the queen. This way of portraying the characters is completely different from that of more recent times. In Wagner, for example, the characters can be reduced to a single leitmotif. In Verdi's Aida, the main character is portrayed entirely by the orchestra. This may seem paradoxical... but despite the principle of da capo arias and despite the fact that each aria has its own character, the portrayal of the characters is extremely realistic. I myself am convinced that a human being has contradictory character traits.

 

The same applies to Morgana, Alcina's sister. Her personality is built up through the kaleidoscopic series of arias she sings...

How many contrasts are inscribed in this character! In the first act, Morgana expresses pleasure and joie de vivre. Her aria "Torna mi a vagheggiar" is undoubtedly one of the highlights of this opera, and I am sure that few spectators will be able to stop humming this melody during the interval. The aria "Ama, sospira" in Act II reminds me of someone cautiously and fearfully walking across a frozen lake, taking small steps, lest they break the ice and sink into the icy water at any moment. This process allows us to cautiously probe the situation: where do I stand? Where do others stand? What is happening to me? Later, in the aria "Credete al mio dolore" in Act III, Morgana appears terribly depressed. Fortunately, she does not keep her torment to herself and utters a cry of distress, while Alcina ends up completely alone and withdrawn.

 

The phrase "Ed al fin trionfa amor" (And love triumphs at last) in the final chorus resonates cynically in this context.

The god Love has always been cruel, as is well known. In other words, everything we have seen has happened because of him...

 

As far as duration is concerned, Handel's operas differ little from those of Verdi - Don Carlo, for example - or Wagner. When you stage a production, you almost always have to cut out passages. What was your choice?

Deep down I love it when the audience can devote four or five hours to an evening of opera. I still think we should go back to full performances. In Zurich we opted for a version without ballet music. This was a legitimate choice since Handel only inserted these passages at a very late stage and deleted them when the opera was revived. We also dropped the character of Oberto and the lion scene, which Handel had added shortly before the premiere to impress the audience. So we performed the original version, shortened by two arias. If it had been Boris Godunov, it would probably have been called the original version...

 

But you didn't want to give up the dances...

Not at all. Handel had the beautiful idea of underlining the exuberance of Alcina's world through ballet. I decided to use a part of the overture that contains dance movements to introduce the audience to Alcina's seductive world. It was clear to me that this aspect had to be taken up again in the rest of the action, to make it an integral part.

 

Would it have been conceivable for you to abandon the allegedly redundant da capo repetition of the arias?

Certainly not. When I listen to old recordings that still use this form, it irritates me deeply and leaves a bitter taste. I would associate this practice more with belcanto arias - a slower part, a cabaletta... Repetition is very important to me: in the case of Alcina, the repetition is indeed surprising in almost every aria. This is partly due to the fact that the central part of the aria is often very short or that musical themes presented in part A are repeated in part B, which is quite unusual. In any case, Handel is extremely modern in these compositional aspects; it would be pointless to try to make him even more modern.

 

What are the implications of the da capo form for the staging?

It was obviously a big task, and there were many challenges. But I also felt much more motivated in this respect than I would have been with other works, for example, from the period of verism, where everything is predefined, and you have to be careful to avoid duplication. With the da capo structure, one is pushed to invent an exteriorised or interiorised action, and one must always take a stand. Often it will be an intensification or distortion of what happened in part A. Sometimes it is from the outside, sometimes from the inside. Sometimes it's pure action; other times it's a very intimate element that puts the action in the background.

 Interview by Kathrin Brunner, 2014

A few words with Philippe Jaroussky

Philippe Jaroussky

Some words about Monte Carlo Opera...

So far, I sang one concert performance there, and I am very much looking forward to returning to this magnificent theatre. Moreover, I am proud and touched that Cecilia Bartoli called on me to perform with her during the first season of her tenure at Monte Carlo.

 

And a tip for its new director? 

Cecilia gained a huge amount of experience and scores of success in Salzburg, so this makes her fit for this position. My personal wish is for her to take care about voices, and to pay attention to young singers! This is absolutely fundamental, and so difficult today, when few people are willing to give them a chance. I was invited to sing Nerone in Monteverdi’s Poppea at the age of 21 –it was by no means perfect but I learned so many things from being on stage in an important part while working with experienced colleagues. 

 

Haendel operas and Alcina

I love singing Alcina with Cecilia, even just to stand in the wings and listen to her in her signature role, I think this may be the seventh time! There are in fact not too many leading parts which suit my voice range and character. Two of Handel’s match my temperament: Sesto in Giulio Cesare and Ruggiero in Alcina. Ruggiero has a well-known, raging side and an “orphic” one. The latter can be heard in the famous arias “Mi lusinga il dolce affetto” and “Verdi prati”. It is difficult, however, to make Ruggiero likeable, and I try hard to show why he is actually the only man Alcina ever truly loved. Looking to the future, my interests are going in new directions –more contemporary music, and conducting, amongst others– and I have begun to think about leaving my baroque opera roles behind. Maybe this will turn out a kind of beautiful farewell, let’s see…

 

What is particular about this Christof Loy production?

It is incredibly beautiful, intelligently devised and moving. In Christof Loy’s reading Alcina herself seems to be blocked in her own world, while people around her all undergo changes. He uses baroque machinery to transit from a lavish theatre production to a late 18th century, Così fan tutte –like setting that gives space to the entangled personal relationships, before letting everything implode into a void. And the third act contains a special challenge for me.Actually, I think I should go to the gym now, in order to get prepared…! 

Ariosto, Handel and the art of the amorous illusion

After Orlando and Ariodante, Alcina concludes Ariosto's trilogy by taking as its source a new episode from his Orlando furioso, songs 6 and 7, set to music for the first time by the composer Francesca Faccini in Florence in 1625, under the title La Liberazione di Ruggiero dell'isola d'Alcina. The episode chosen by Handel is as far removed as possible from that of Ariodante: Alcina plunges us into the enchanting atmosphere of the island of a sorceress who attracts men only to transform them into "stones, trees and wild beasts" according to the period argument. Handel had probably discovered it during his last stay in Italy, in Parma in 1729, under the title Bradamante nell'isola d'Alcina. The plot is famous and will have as many titles as lives: Alcina delusa da Ruggiero for Albinoni in 1725, became Gli avvenimenti di Ruggiero d'Alcina in 1732. But it was Antonio Fanzaglia's libretto that he chose to adapt, L'Isola d'Alcina, written for Riccardo Broschi, Farinelli's brother, with whom Handel always refused to work. History does not say whether this was yet another challenge to the star castrato who was then on the rival Haymarket stage, but it is possible. In any case, since Ezio, his hand was solid as the tacit librettist of his own works: he made only a few alterations to the original, drastically reducing the recitatives as usual, retaining an exceptionally large proportion of the arias written for Broschi's original version (24 of 34). Sets changes in full view, enchanted palace, enchanted garden, men turned into rocks, everything is a spectacle. Alcina's fairy-tale atmosphere no doubt made it more immediately appealing than Ariodante's bedroom romances. Its good-natured classicism, dividing about the same number of arias between the three main roles (Alcina, Ruggiero and Morgana) and moving away from the early Baroque aesthetic for a plot that marks the beginnings of operatic psychology, is no doubt not for nothing in the success that the work enjoyed in the 20th century. The magical dimension of Ariosto infuses the entire score through an opera-ballet mixing all the arts (it was one of the specificities of Covent Garden to have a ballet, that of the Frenchwoman Marie Sallé), even if the artifice is here only the reflection of the illusory powers of a magician enslaved by love. If Alcina is the most majestic of Handel's witches, she is also his greatest tragedienne. As Jean Starobinski noted in Les Enchanteresses, "pleasure loves to mirror itself in its own representation" and the spectacle of illusions will eventually consume the true love of a woman vulnerable to its power and charms. From this point of view, Alcina is the female twin of Ariodante, two opposite forms of the same sentimental introspection.

 

Luc Hernandez

Alcina, the creation

Premiere: 16 April 1735. London, Royal theatre, Covent Garden. Score completed on 8 April 1735, in the middle of five performances of Athalia. The first dress rehearsal took place five days before the premiere, at Handel's house in Brook Street, in the presence of Mary Pendarves. New sets for the premiere. Libretto by Handel, based on Antonio Fansaglia's L'Isola d'Alcina and Ariosto's Orlando furioso.

18 performances in the first season, then two brief revivals on 6 November 1735 for 3 performances (without Carestini and Cecilia Young and with further changes in the cast).

Performance in Brunswick in February 1738 in an arrangement probably by G.C. Schürmann, before a two-century eclipse. Handel included "Semplicetto" in his pasticcio Jupiter in Argos in 1739 and "Mi Lusinga" in his revival of Semele on 1 December 1744.

22 performances in all during Handel's lifetime.

 

The original cast

Alcina: Anna Strada del Pò. Morgana: Cecilia Young, soprano. Ruggiero: Giovanni Carestini, castrato. Bradamante: Maria Caterina Negri, contralto. Oronte: John Beard, ténor. Melisso: Gustav Waltz, bass. Oberto: Mr William Savage, male soprano.

The roles

Alcina, a sorceress
Ruggiero, a knight, engaged to Alcina
Bradamante, Ruggiero's betrothed, disguised as her own brother, the knight Ricciardo
Morgana, sister of Alcina
Oronte, general of Alcina, lover of Morgana
Melisso, the governor of Bradamante
Oberto, a boy searching for his father Astolfo, vanished on the island of Alcina

First modern performance in Leipzig in 1928. True rebirth of Alcina in 1957 thanks to the Handel Opera society’s production, with Joan Sutherland in the title role. La Stupenda then contributed largely to the work’s notoriety with more performances in Cologne, Venice, Dallas or New York sometimes in Franco Zeffirelli's production. After Giulio Cesare, Alcina has become the most performed opera by Handel in the 20th century.

Historical context

In the midst of his creative fever, Handel was already composing Alcina during rehearsals for his previous opera, Ariodante, in 1734. Unfortunately, the exciting possibilities of the new Covent Garden stage - he had created most of his London operas at the Haymarket King's theatre - had not been enough to stem the public failure of his later works. The shadow of the oratorio - increasingly popular with the English - and the spectre of bankruptcy continued to overshadow his obsession with the opera seria (he composed 39 of them!). The immediate success of Alcina gave him a final respite: it was the only opera to exceed 13 performances after Admeto, his most popular opera since 1727. The revival of the public was coupled with a dithyrambic critical reception. Even Mrs Pendraves, who was not very generous with her compliments for her beloved composer, was unable to say anything strong enough when she left Handel's house in Book Street on the evening of the general performance offered to the happy few just before the premiere: I think it the best he ever made, (but I have thought so fo so many) I have no words to describe it. Strada has a whole scene of charming recitative, there are a thousand beauties. Whilst Mr. Handel was playing his part, I could not help thinking him a necromancer in the midst of his own enchantments.  ((Mrs Pendraves to her mother Mary Granville, 12 April 1735).

Handel's latest operatic success

Word of mouth spread rapidly around the city and on the day of the premiere the London Daily was quick to fan the flames, announcing that we hear the new opera will exceed any composition of Mr. Handel’s hitherto performed. (16 April). But Handel's latest success at the opera house was to be nothing more than a sham: none of the structural problems inherent in the production had been solved, despite the goodwill of John Rich at the helm of the Royal Opera at Covent Garden, nor had the endless whims of the singers... Carestini refused to sing 'Verdi prati', one of the rondos that became one of the great hits of the opera, finding it too simple for him, and ended up leaving for Italy early on 6 July 1735, after the last performance of Alcina, 'tired of singing to empty halls'. As usual, Handel did not give up any of his authority over the singers and Charles Burney even reports the legend that he went to Carestini's house to admonish him: don't I know better as your seluf, vaat is pest for you to sing? If you vill not sing all de song vaat I give you, I will not pay you ein stiver.The simple melody won over the audience, and Burney also reports that the aria 'was constantly sung during the performances'. But times had changed: if castrati had once been willing to stay for the glory, as venues had become sparse, the success of a single title was no longer enough to overcome their vexation. This was Carestini's last opera for Handel, although he returned to London in 1739 at the Haymarket.

The Covent Garden ballet and the disgrace of Marie Sallé

When Handel arrived on the Covent Garden stage (after having created most of his operas at the Haymarket King's theatre), he had the benefit of a chorus for the first time. He used it sparingly, remaining faithful to the Italian seria model, in which the soloists form a small ensemble for the lieto finale, the joyful conclusion of every opera. However, from Ariodante onwards he integrated the ballet provided by John Rich, the theatre director who was also a former dancer. The Frenchwoman Marie Sallé - one of the great attractions of the London stage - was in charge. Attesting to the audacity and licentiousness of Alcina for the spectators of her time, she was to have a most daring idea which ended up being fatal: to dance the role of Cupid herself in male costume, as the Abbé Prévost, who was in London, recounts in his journal Le Pour et le contre. This cross-dressing of the sexes in the lightest of outfits "was apparently the cause of her disgrace" notes the writer. She was hissed at during the performances and eventually had to leave London and her position due to the extent of the scandal. In revenge, she took part a few weeks later in the first performance of Rameau's Indes Galantes in Paris on 28 August 1735. With no castrato or ballet, despite the new sets hired for the production by John Rich, Handel found himself in the greatest artistic fragility at the end of Alcina's performances. The last magical opera to close the London cycle, Alcina is indeed a theatre of illusions, both literally and figuratively, a final success for the last lights of the emigrated alchemist of Italian opera.

 

Luc Hernandez

Rolando furioso, excerpt

Ludovico Ariosto
Orlando furioso

Canto VI (excerpts)


“Pursuing thus our rugged journey, we
Came (such our evil doom) upon the strand,
Where stood a mansion seated by the sea:
Puissant Alcina owned the house and land.
We found her, where, without her dwelling, she
Had taken on the beach her lonely stand;
And though nor hook nor sweeping net she bore,
What fish she willed, at pleasure drew to shore.

“Thither swift dolphins gambol, inly stirred,
And open-mouthed the cumbrous tunnies leap;
Thither the seal or porpus’ wallowing herd
Troop at her bidding, roused from lazy sleep;
Raven-fish, salmon, salpouth, at her word,
And mullet hurry through the briny deep,
With monstrous backs above the water, sail
Ork, physeter, sea-serpent, shark, and whale.


“There we behold a mighty whale, of size
The hugest yet in any water seen:
More than eleven paces, to our eyes,
His back appears above the surface green:
And (for still firm and motionless he lies,
And such the distance his two ends between)
We all are cheated by the floating pile,
And idly take the monster for an isle.

“Alcina made the ready fish obey
By simple words and by mere magic lore:
Born with Morgana -- but I cannot say
If at one birth, or after or before.
As soon as seen, my aspect pleased the fay;
Who showed it in the countenance she wore:
Then wrought with art, and compassed her intent,
To part me from the friends with whom I went.

“She came towards us with a cheerful face,
With graceful gestures, and a courteous air,
And said: ‘So you my lodging please to grace,
Sir cavalier, and will with me repair,
You shall behold the wonders of my chace,
And note the different sorts of fish I snare;
Shaggy or smooth, or clad in scales of light,
And more in number than the stars of night:

“ ‘And would you hear a mermaid sing so sweet,
That the rude sea grows civil at her song,
Wont at this hour her music to repeat,
(With that she showed the monster huge and long
-- I said it seemed an island -- as her seat)
Pass with me where she sings the shoals among.’
I, that was always wilful, at her wish,
I now lament my rashness, climb the fish.

“To Dudon and Rinaldo’s signal blind,
I go, who warn me to misdoubt the fay.
With laughing face Alcina mounts behind,
Leaving the other two beside the bay.
The obedient fish performs the task assigned,
And through the yielding water works his way.
Repentant of my deed, I curse the snare,
Too far from land my folly to repair.

“To aid me swam Mount Alban’s cavalier,
And was nigh drowned amid the waves that rise;
For a south-wind sprang up that, far and near,
Covered with sudden darkness seas and skies.
I know not after what befel the peer:
This while Alcina to console me tries,
And all that day, and night which followed, me
Detained upon that monster in mid-sea,

“Till to this isle we drifted with the morn,
Of which Alcina keeps a mighty share;
By that usurper from a sister torn,
Who was her father’s universal heir:
For that she only was in wedlock born,
And for those other two false sisters were
(So well-instructed in the story, said
One who rehearsed the tale) in incest bred.

“As these are practised in iniquity,
And full of every vice and evil art;
So she, who ever lives in chastity,
Wisely on better things has set her heart.
Hence, leagued against her, in conspiracy,
Those others are, to drive her from her part:
And more than once their armies have o’errun
Her realm, and towns above a hundred won.

“Nor at this hour a single span of ground
Would Logistilla (such her name) command,
But that a mountain here, and there a sound,
Protects the remnant from the invading band.
Tis thus the mountain and the river bound
England, and part it from the Scottish land.
Yet will the sisters give their foe no rest,
Till of her scanty remnant dispossest.

“Because in wickedness and vice were bred
The pair, as chaste and good they loath the dame.
But, to return to what I lately said,
And to relate how I a plant became;
Me, full of love, the kind Alcina fed
With full delights; nor I a weaker flame
For her, within my burning heart did bear,
Beholding her so courteous and so fair.

“Clasped in her dainty limbs, and lapt in pleasure,
I weened that I each separate good had won,
Which to mankind is dealt in different measure,
Little or more to some, and much to none.
I evermore contemplated my treasure,
Nor France nor aught beside I thought upon:
In her my every fancy, every hope
Centered and ended as their common scope.

“By her I was as much beloved, or more;
Nor did Alcina now for other care;
She left her every lover; for before,
Others, in truth, the fairy’s love did share:
I was her close adviser evermore;
And served by her, where they commanded were.
With me she counselled, and to me referred;
Nor, night nor day, to other spake a word.

 

Translated by William Stewart Rose (1823)