This is a nice little production of Ariodante. Little in terms of the hall (the stage is quite small, and so is the capacity, to judge from the volume and distribution of the applause); the concept isn’t big (we’re still in Scotland, but updated to the 1950s) the voices are not big, but they’re effective. The whole thing is brisk, in a good way. There are no grand moments, but there is some nice music-making. The conductor/ensemble is Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco, so as you would expect they know what they are about as far as Handel is concerned.
In act I, Dalinda spends several minutes wearing one black glove. I mean, she puts it on, and then sits there at the tea table smoking, wearing one glove. Given that the storyline doesn’t have much to do with Michael Jackson, I cannot explain this. It’s a sort of brief excursus into the abstract that appears to recognize what it is about, note that it is alone, panic, and be on its way so as not to cause a fuss. If someone put a gun to my head and demanded an interpretation, I would guess that it’s a signal of Dalinda’s role as both good guy and bad guy in this opera – but really? Solo glove?
Da capo arias can slow down what is happening on the stage. This is one of the reasons Handel’s operas can seem a little glacial. This production does something in Act I that both confronts and embraces this problem. Ginevra has this aria about how she’s just thrilled that things are working out so well (just wait, Ginevra!) and while she’s singing this, everyone else freezes, and the lighting places them mostly in silhouette. It works. These sorts of arias are often a stop-the-action meditation or embroidery on a character’s emotional state, and here they just sort of take this concept and run with it. You wouldn’t want this to happen every single time, but once is quite effective.
Dalinda here is more interesting than usual. Normally she comes off as kind of a spaz. Polinesso, the villain, asks her to dress up as her mistress, Ginevra, and let him into Ginevra’s rooms in such a way that anyone who happened to be hanging out in the garden could not fail to notice. The best explanation one can normally come up with as to why she would do this is that she figures Polinesso has a Ginevra kink and if she wants him, she’s going to have to wear the dress. But it does not occur to her that if this bit of role-play were to be, say, observed by two or three third parties who might happen to be passing through the aforesaid garden, it could land Ginevra in some trouble. As I say, Dalinda is kind of a spaz.
But this Dalinda (Marta Vandoni Iorio, who I had never heard of) is a little different. She’s not just a dolt. Here she is aware of being jerked around by just about everyone else; she rarely smiles; her shoulders are perpetually slumped. This is a lady in waiting who has been ground down by the pressures of her position. She is powerless to the extent that her yesses and her nos are alike meaningless, which is why everyone at the end is like yes, yes, you’re innocent of Polinesso’s misdeeds, now off you go, dear. She’s a nonentity. It works. Iorio has a smallish not terribly distinctive voice, but there’s nothing wrong with the singing.
I had only ever heard Laura Cherici (Ginevra) before as Oberto on this recording of Alcina . Here she’s not a Ginevra for the ages, if there even is such a thing, but — as I keep saying about this entire production, there’s nothing wrong with the singing. She is a little strained and fluttery in Act I, but this passes. It sounds nice, the ornamentation is fine, it’s idiomatically Handel-y, the whole shebang, but it won’t keep you up at night.
Some women can play male characters really well. Sarah Connelly, for example, is sort of phenomenal as Julius Casear. She gets the walk right. And the fact that she appears to be about six feet tall doesn’t hurt, either. Rinat Shaham’s Cherubino is sort of startling: as one reviewer I remember reading pointed out, her resemblance to a 15-year-old boy borders on the unnerving. Then there are the women whose boys are not all that boyish, but somehow it doesn’t matter. Christine Schaefer’s Cherubino (you know the production we’re talking about here) is in this category, as is Vesselina Kasarova as Ruggiero, Sesto, etc.
Anyway, Ann Hallenburg as Ariodante is not really in either of these categories. Hallenburg is a very good Handel singer, and Ariodante’s big moments, e.g. “scherza, infida,” or “numi, lasciami vivere” are well worth hearing – these are some of the most intense moments in the whole thing. At the same time, this is not on the whole a production that seems to produce intense emotion.
Also, I had never before noticed how aptly named Lurcanio is. Seriously, this is a guy who is basically always around. Maybe that’s why he and Dalinda end up together. Conceptually, they suit one another.