|Handel - Ariodante - London Handel Festival - photo Chris Christodoulou|
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 9 2016
Handel meets game of thrones in superbly confident and emotionally strong performance
photo Chris Christodoulou
Ariodante is set in mythic Scotland and requires a setting where duelling as a means of settling honour disputes is convincing. David Alden's 1996 production at English National Opera showed that this sensibility can be combined with a challenging investigation of the underlying psychological disturbance in the plot, particularly when it comes to the treatment of Ginevra who is accused of being unchaste without being allowed to put her point of view, and at the end is expected to return happily to the former status quo.
Bonas and Einchcomb seem to have chosen A Game of Thrones as their inspiration; a neo-medieval society, all homespun fabrics, coarse knitting and furs. The set consisted of a system of screens and curtains moved by supers, which allowed for quick changes of scene. Using video too, designer Molly Einchcomb created some magical scenes. But at other times Bonas seemed to be aiming for filmic immediacy and long arias such as Polinesso's act two aria 'Se l'inganno sortisce felice', had virtually a different setting for each sub-section creating a breathless, whistle-stop feel. Lighting was dramatic with strong shadows on faces thus making life difficult at times. And we never did work out whether Polinesso was supposed to have a huge facial scar or a tattoo.
Bonas' s production was very much based around the youth of his cast. These were young people playing young characters (with the exception of the king).
|Marie Lys, Thomas Erlank - photo Chris Christodoulou|
Kamilla Dunstan as Ariodante did not cut the most androgynous of figures, but compensated with a wonderfully free and open sense of personality. She has a bright, vibrant voice and easily moved from the great joy of act one, to the despair of 'Scherza infida', through the tournament-like challenge to the bravura fireworks of 'Doppo notte'.
Gemma Lois Summerfield is, I suspect, a soprano with a voice on the move towards the more dramatic. In the meanwhile we could enjoy her lively persÃ²nality and vibrant characterisation as Ginevra. A pleasure in the joyful first half, she brought great intensity to Ginevra's scenes later in the opera. Thanks to some strongly dramatic singing and fine personen-regie we really felt disturbed by Ginevra's scene at the end of Act Two.
|Simphiwe Simon Shibambu - photo Chris Christodoulou|
Thomas Scott-Cowell is a very personable young man on stage, with a fine counter-tenor voice. As the villainous Polinesso (a role actually written for a female singer 'en travestie') he struggled somewhat to bring out the character's underlying nastiness. As my companion commented 'you just want to hug him'. But he was able to take control of the stage and still make Polinesso count. And there were many musical consolations, what he did with his voice was well worth listening to and he sang the Handel with intelligent style.
Maria Lys as Dalinda was slightly more seriously intense and rather less perky soubrette than I have seen in the past. But this worked in the context of the production. Lys conveyed a vibrant sense of Dalinda's youth. Her feel for Handel's music was strong with some finely accurate fioriture, culminating in a stunning show-stopping account of Dalinda's final aria, which showed that Lys can't just sing pinpoint coloratura but can really perform it.
Thomas Erlank made a strong Lurcanio (a role written for the young John Beard), his imposing stature contributing to a sturdy stage presence with a fine frank and open voice. Erlank's negotiating of the coloratura was impressive with a nice evenness in the passagework. He and Lys made a superb team in the lovely duet in act three where they reach an accommodation after all the turmoil.
Simphiwe Simon Shibambu made an impressive King, with a lovely dark voice and secure technique, plus a nice gravity of manner. Joel Williams as Odoardo got his aria and impressed with his strong lyric voice and fine command of line.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this performance was that the time just flew by, so engrossed were we in Handel's drama. Well paced by Laurence Cummings with never a moment when the singers seemed less than in full control. The London Handel Orchestra made a full sound in the pit. Though we did not get the dances there were plenty of moments for them to impress.
Handel Ariodante - Janet Baker, Edith Mathis, Norma Burrowes, James Bowman, Raymond Leppard
Handel Ariodante - Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Lisa Saffer, Nicholas McGegan
Handel Ariodante - Joyce DiDonato, Karina Gauvin, Sabina Puertolais, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Alan Curtis
Elsewhere on this blog:
- Schnabel is the star: Cello music from Austria-Hungary
- Making a strong case for a neglected work: Louis Spohr's Die letzten Dinge - concert review
- Not a shooting star, but a well rooted planet: My interview with Ilona Domnich
- Highly personal Alice Coote, Christian Blackshaw in Schumann's Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und -leben on Wigmore Hall Live - CD review
- Entrancing: Duets by Schumann, Mendelssohn, Peter Cornelius from Lucy Crowe & William Berger - CD review
- Musical values: Handel's Orlando with Iestyn Davies - opera review
- Saxon reserve and Italian passion: The Brook Street Band - concert review
- Strong revival: Puccini's Il trittico at Covent Garden - opera review
- Dramatic involvement: Verdi's Il trovatore from Chelsea Opera Group - opera review
- Youthful exuberance: The Sixteen in Handel's Dixit Dominus - concert review
- Distinctive voice: Michael Csanyi-Wills' songs with orchestra - CD review
- Somewhere over the rainbow: Song in the City celebrates LGBT History Month - concert review