Opera Reviews
22 January 2018
Untitled Document

Joyce DiDonato offers a dramatic Alcina

by Moore Parker
Handel: Alcina
Theater an der Wien
17 October 2014

Although strictly a part for soprano, Alcina proves an ongoing - and ideal - vehicle for Joyce DiDonato, who is currently touring a concert version of Handel’s monumental work, with Vienna preceded by performances in Britain and Spain, and culminating with Carnegie Hall in New York.

DiDonato’s merits have been generally well documented, and no less so with reference to her long-established Alcina. However this performance underscored the artist’s ability to negate the natural bounds of a lyric mezzo (both in range and dramatic expression) to mirror a meticulously sculpted concept which was delivered with a rare sense of spontaneity and communication. The voice appears to have grown somewhat in volume since her 2012 “Drama Queens” appearance here, and is capable of truly dramatic outbursts at no expense to the lyrical purity of tone elsewhere. How wonderful too for the recitativi to carry no less weight and importance than the showcase arias. 

Exotically costumed by Vivian Westwood (who alas was seemingly not consulted on Ruggiero’s attire), one suspects this Alcina could have donned a bed sheet and still have made her mark.

This grouping brings together a line-up of non-Baroque specialists – curiously, with one of the more minor roles, Oberto, introducing a performer who in all most closely approached DiDonato in terms of sheer class of performance.

The young Irish soprano Anna Devin is already making professional headway (with Nanetta scheduled in Covent Garden’s forthcoming Falstaff). She stood out on this evening with her sense of Handelian style, agility, and convincing delivery. Her 3rd Act aria “Barbara! io ben lo so…” was a highlight and brought the house down. Both the voice and artist possess presence, only to be slightly faulted for a touch of accent in her Italian and one or two precarious moments at the extreme top. A singer to watch.  

Quite different, but equally impressive was Anna Christy’s Morgana – bubbling with personality and charm, and demonstrating superb legato and fluidity of line.

Sonia Prina’s appealing Bradamante excelled in her lyrical moments with some lovely singing and a striking appearance, but unfortunately made Handel’s tricky scale work look – if not sound -awkwardly difficult.

By far the least credible in all respects was Alice Coote’s acerbic and rather blustery Ruggiero, who appeared generally ill-at-ease in stage demeanor (oddly-posed and conducting much of the proceedings with her left arm) - as well as with Handel’s coloratura demands. Her set numbers in Act 2 brought some controlled lyrical singing through which the character gained a degree of empathy, but even Act 3’s show stealer, “Sta nell’Ircana” was sadly to pale alongside the standards of accuracy and sincerity set for the evening by DiDonato. 

Like his Irish soprano colleague, Ben Johnson has the true technique and style for this music. He too made much of the libretto, coloring his appealing lyric tenor well and leaving an overall strong impression as Oronte.

Wojtek Gierlach, with his solid and even-scaled bass-baritone, was an accurate and imposing Melisso.

The English Consort und Harry Bicket gave an impeccable reading, quite homogenous with the stage but occasionally slightly wanting in some of the gutsy sounds heard emanating from similar ensembles here in recent times.

Wonderful as this was, the imagination is fired by the thought of a good stage production, eliminating the distraction of scores and music stands. However, bravo to the Theater an der Wien for securing an event which can already surely claim to be one of the seasons highlights.

Text © Moore Parker
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