The orchestra was La Scintilla, conductor Giovanni Antonini. They were amazing. I had already heard Antonini in Salzburg, with the orchestra Il giardino armonico, and the great first impression was confirmed. I was in the third row, so I looked at him closely: he is really incredibly good. He conducts with his whole body, and closes each phrase with movements worthy of a dancer. He helps the singers at every step, he lets them breathe, everybody keeps the tempo with incredible ease. A big Bravo to orchestra and Maestro!
I liked the production, with one exception that I will mention later. The enchanted world of Alcina is made of people dressed as in the XVIII century, while the people outside of the enchantment (Bradamante and Melisso at the beginning, and then everybody, one after the other) are dressed in modern clothes. It works. The story comes from Orlando Furioso: the hero Ruggiero is under the spell of the witch Alcina and forgets his true love, Bradamante, who arrives on the island disguised as a man, together with her tutor, Melisso. Alcina’s sister, Morgana, falls in love with Bradamante, thinking she is a man. All things considered, with Ruggiero played by a woman, it feels like the set of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. In the end Alcina is defeated and love triumphs.
Alcina was Cecilia Bartoli! I know a lot of people don’t like her, but I ADORE her. Her timbre is sumptuous, her breath amazing (she breathes through her ears, this is the only explanation), and her coloratura is pure fireworks. She gave a very emotional interpretation, tormenting herself (and us) in the lamentation arias. Her Alcina is very human, and not very much of a witch, a woman seduced and abandoned. It’s easy to forget that she has transformed her previous lovers in rocks and animals when she got tired of them, when she sings with such anguish. She is the only character that comes out truly human and three dimensional. I know, she grimaces, she overacts, get over it, close your eyes if you have to, and listen.
Ruggiero was Malena Ernman, who, here in Sweden, is a national treasure. She’s always on TV, but she’s really a good singer. I had already heard her as Nerone in Agrippina (Haendel again), and she once again gave a wonderful performance, very convincing in her pants role. Unfortunately tonight she had a big cold, and her voice was not so strong. But she’s amazing, her coloratura, in particular. Her heroic aria Sta nell’ircana is a blaze of agility, but it became a travelling circus. There was such a mess on stage that it made it hard to listen to the music. The dancers jumped to and fro like crickets, and she, Malena, did the following things, in order: dance the Charleston, do a few push-ups (while singing! I swear!), moonwalk like Michael Jackson, smoke a cigarette. Had she juggled, we would have hit the bingo. She’s an amazing entertainer and I must admit that, in all that mess, she sang the aria perfectly. But still.
Morgana was Julie Fuchs, I’d never heard of her, great voice, but a bit boring. She has the most charming aria of the whole opera (Tornami a vagheggiar) and she sang it beautifully, getting a big ovation from the audience. But I don’t know, she didn’t convince me completely, I found her lacking in charisma.
Bradamante was Varduhi Abrahamyan, she’s from Armenia, and we should all thank Armenia for giving us this fantastic alto. The center of her voice is solid, with powerful low notes, great passaggio, wonderful projection. She’s a great actress, very convincing. I really liked her a lot, I’ll keep an eye on her, I would love to hear her in Rossini.
And now we come to the only two men on stage. Melisso, sung by Erik Anstine, cuts a nice figure, both on stage, and from a musical point of view. He’s an American bass, very tall, with a huge voice, Leporello-like. Oronte was the tenor Fabio Trumpy, who, I think, is from Zürich. Both fantastic side-kicks, they sing their arias with great taste and complete a wonderful cast.
I am extremely happy that I have seen this Alcina: it moved me a lot, and in fact I can’t sleep and I write this review. I feel lucky and grateful.