Update – For 3 months, the recording of the very performance I saw will be available on the website of the Dutch National Radio. Click here.
Great Ariodante, by Haendel, in Amsterdam. The orchestra, Concerto Köln, under the direction of Italian conductor Andrea Marcon, was amazing, one of the most exciting performances I’ve ever heard. Wonderful basses, with two theorboes (or something very similar) who gave a spectacular continuo, playing often by “strumming”. This made the orchestral accompaniment very incisive, I was surprised. Fast but not crazy tempi, great support to singers, a bit of squeakiness in the horns (playing the baroque horn is so hard), but globally an enthralling orchestra, with a very elegant phrasing, albeit never cold, always very communicative. I had already heard Marcon as a director of the Venice Baroque Orchestra, in a concert with countertenor Franco Fagioli (here the review), and he confirmed his bravura!
The production was the one from the Aix-en-Provence festival; I had already seen it in a DVD and despised it, but I had a completely different impression of it, live. This will generate a digression which I will publish soon. So, Ariodante has a plot coming from the poem Orlando Furioso, it goes like this: Ariodante is a valiant warrior, in love with Ginevra, daughter to the King of Scotland, and his love is returned. Polinesso, Duke of Albany, lusts after Ginevra. With the help of Dalinda, Ginevra’s friend and confidante, who is in love with him, Polinesso manages to trick Ariodante into believing that Ginevra is unfaithful. Ariodante tries to kill himself and fails. Ariodante’s brother kills Polinesso in a duel. Ariodante and Ginevra are reunited and live happily ever after.
Here, obviously, instead of medieval knights we have fishermen and peasants in modern clothes, while the King of Scotland features a kilt. Polinesso, the evildoer who schemes against Ariodante, is, for some unknown reason, dressed as a priest. The key point of the production is that the happy ending does not happen, because Ginevra, unfairly treated like a strumpet by everybody for the whole third act, can’t bring herself back to love Ariodante as if nothing had happened. So she packs her bags and leaves. The idea is very good, because the treatment of Ginevra is really bad, her father repudiates her, Ariodante’s brother shames her in front of everybody, and when Ariodante comes back alive and well he stays on stage for half an hour singing two wonderful arias before running to her and tell her that everything is all right and he loves her still. So it is reasonable, that she in the end does not accept the happy ending.
Moreover, during the long orchestral intermissions (originally dancing scenes) the chorus puts up a performance with puppets representing Ginevra and Ariodante, as if the community was commenting and imagining what happens between them. They are very well done and appropriate. Ariodante, while Ginevra leaves in the end, keeps looking the puppets performance, as if everything was peachy, ignoring that she’s left. For once, we get a musically appropriate scenography, shaped like a shell, helping the singers project their sound onto the audience. It is a doll’s house with 3 rooms where things happen at the same time. This helps in such a long opera, with a never ending sequel of “da capo” arias. A lot of things happen on stage.
A phenomenal Sarah Connolly! A fantastic Ariodante, in great shape. Her phrasing is at a such high level of musical intelligence, that it generates a real live Ariodante, who moves and engages the audience. Her coloratura is always extremely well prepared, not only perfect in rhythm and intonation, but also meaningful. The picchiettati are joyful laughs, the messa di voce is a sigh, due to love or desperation, the melismas are sobs and tears. You NEVER have the feeling that she’s showing off, that she plays fireworks just to bring about the burst of applause. She’s always a humble, and extremely competent, servant to Music. Her Scherza infida brought me to tears, really heartbreaking, it moved me so much.
Ginevra was the German soprano Anett Fritsch, a very pleasant surprise! On the contrary of a lot of other baroque sopranos, her voice is full, three-dimensional, and this gives her character a remarkable psychological depth. She really convinced me. The duets with Connolly were wonderful.
Polinesso was Sonia Prina, an alto who is a Haendel specialist, and in her pants role was somewhat less convincing than Connolly, also because she’s not too tall. Polinesso has the most daring of the coloratura arias in the whole opera, and she brings them home with great skill: her agility is amazing, very precise in the rhythm and the intonation. Really remarkable, I liked her a lot. Her Polinesso is very mono-dimensional: pure stereotyped evil, but this is also due to the direction, obviously. She also managed a rape scene against the poor Sandrine Piau, singing Dalinda, brutally mistreating her (but avoiding extreme vulgarities). I want to hear her again in a more complex role to understand her better as an interpreter.
Sandrine Piau, as I was saying, sings Dalinda, and her voice is a baroque soprano a bit more traditional, i.e. less three-dimensional, a bit more boring. Wonderful coloratura and beautiful timbre, the character doesn’t help her: she’s a helpless dangerous idiot. However, she sings a few quite difficult arias with great ability.
The bass Luca Tittoto was the King of Scotland, he’s great! His aria Al sen ti stringo e parto was very moving. A full, strong voice, yet very agile, with a wonderful tone. I want to hear him again.
Ariodante’s brother, Lurcanio, was the young tenor Andrew Tortise. I wasn’t completely convinced: his coloratura is a bit ha-ha-ha-ha and his timbre is light, as it should, but it’s too light. White, almost transparent. Very precise though.
The chorus does not have very relevant numbers, but they held their own, as did Christopher Diffey, singing the minor part of Odoardo
Overall, a wonderful evening!