OPERA SERIA IN THREE ACTS (1735)
MUSIC BY GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL (1685-1759)
ANONYMOUS LIBRETTO ADAPTED FROM RICCARDO BROSCHI’S OPERA “L’ISOLA DI ALCINA” BASED ON ARIOSTO’S “ORLANDO FURIOSO”
Handel’s treatment of the sorceress who transforms men into beast, rock or tree, is a humane and moving portrait of suffering womanhood. Robert Carsen’s production finely exploits this web of hidden desires.
|Robert Carsen||Stage director|
|Tobias Hoheisel||Sets and costumes|
|Philippe Giraudeau||Choreographic movements|
|Alessandro Di Stefano||Chorus master|
Myrto Papatanasiu Alcina
Anna Goryachova Ruggiero
Sandrine Piau Morgana
Patricia Bardon Bradamante
Cyrille Dubois Oronte
Michał Partyka Melisso
Paris Opera Chorus
Les Talens Lyriques
WITH THE EXCEPTIONAL SUPPORT OF THE ANNENBERG FOUNDATION⁄ GRoW
“From Alcina you will receive the sceptre and the power and you will be the happiest of mortals. But you will soon become no more than beast, tree or rock.” These words are taken from Handel’s third opera, inspired by the poem Orlando Furioso and first performed in London in 1735. From Medea to Carmen, the operatic stage has been unceasingly haunted by bewitching temptresses and their spellbound victims. Alcina is no exception: she seduces her victims to the point where they forget their homeland and can no longer distinguish between the delights of headlong passion and the dangers of perverted love. It will take all the tenacity of a Bradamante disguised as a warrior to deliver her fiancé Ruggiero from the clutches of the sorceress. Handel’s stroke of genius was to look beyond the supernatural and depict Alcina as a woman who suffers. The voice of the vanquished enchantress is profoundly human and touching, inspiring in the listener a strange compassion. Robert Carsen, whose production brought Alcina into the Paris Opera repertoire, manipulates this ambiguity, a chiaroscuro of emotions and hidden desire, with consummate finesse.
George Frideric Handel was born on 23 February 1685 at Halle and died on 14 April 1759 in London. After studying at the University of Halle and travelling to Italy, where, under the influence of well-known composers such as Corelli and Scarlatti, he composed several lyric works (Rodrigo, Agrippina, Aci, Galatea e Polifemo), Handel settled in London in 1710. The first of his operas to be performed at the Queen’s Theatre, Haymarket, Rinaldo, also the first Italian opera to have been written for a London theatre, was a triumph. There followed a considerable number of works composed for the Haymarket Theatre (Teseo, Amadigi, etc.) and for the Royal Academy of Music (Radamisto, Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano, Rodelinda, etc.) Because of political intrigues and disagreements between the singers, the Royal Academy of Music was soon to be closed down and replaced a year later by another institution of the same name whose fate was no better. It finished ruined, for the competition it faced from a rival company made famous by the famous castrato Farinelli was too much for it to stand. Handel began to have less success with his operas and turned his genius to the oratorio (he had already composed Saul and Israel in Egypt). Between 1741 and the end of his life he was to compose some of his greatest works : Messiah, Semele, Hercules, Susanna, Solomon, Jephta, Judas Maccabaeus. Handel remained in England and took English citizenship. He died in London at the age of 74 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Along with Orlando and Ariodante, Alcina is the third of Handel’s operas to draw its inspiration from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. The libretto, which is a sort of variant on the myth of Circe, is based on that of L’Isola di Alcina, a work which Riccardo Broschi (the brother of Farinelli) first had performed in Rome in 1728 and which Handel had most probably discovered on a trip to Italy the following year. Unlike Ariodante, a much more human drama, Alcina is a “magical” opera abounding in the supernatural effects and magical transformations so beloved of the Baroque opera public. The choice of a work rich in effects of this sort is also a reflection of this particular period of Handel’s life. After the seasons at the Haymarket and the two Royal Academies of Music, Handel had moved to the Theatre Royal at Covent Garden directed by John Rich, who was particularly attentive to the quality of staging of his productions. Moreover, the theatre was equipped with special stage machinery for creating illusions designed to focus the audience’s attention on the action on stage. All the ingredients for a grand spectacle were thus present and indeed the work received a triumphal welcome.
From a musical point of view, Alcina is an opera seria, that is to say a work composed of arias linked by recitative. Handel wrote brilliant airs for each character designed to show off the vocal virtuosity of the singers and the different aspects of their talent. The role of Ruggiero, initially written for a castrato, is today interpreted by a mezzo-soprano. It was for this role that the composer wrote the famous air “Verdi prati” that Giovanni Carestini, the alto castrato who created the role, at first refused because he considered it unworthy of his talent. The title role, particularly rich and moving, depicts a woman in all the splendour of her seduction yet also in the depths of amorous despair and solitude.
The first performance
Alcina was first performed on 16 April 1735 at Covent Garden, London.
The work at the Paris Opera
Alcina was presented at the Palais Garnier for the first time in 1999, in a production by Robert Carsen, sets and costumes by Tobias Hoheisel, with Renée Fleming (Alcina), Susan Graham (Ruggiero), Natalie Dessay (Morgana), Kathleen Kuhlmann (Bradamante) under the direction of William Christie (Orchestre et Chœurs des Arts Florissants). It is this production that is revived today.