So, more about Alcina. Again. And Renée Fleming, who has this tendency to turn up fairly often as far as certain Handel roles are concerned. Perhaps some day we should talk about Rodelinda again.
Anyway. Here are two performances of “Mi restano le lagrime.” The first is Fleming, and the second, beginning at 8.18, is Joyce DiDonato.
Fleming’s Alcina takes up a lot of space. Fleming is almost too much for this role — I have a sense that she is trying to push through the baroque restraint in the music when perhaps she shouldn’t. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with this. I mean, this is Renée Fleming. It’s not like the lady doesn’t know what she’s doing out there. (Listen to the ‘B’ section at 3.30, or to just the sound alone at 7.20.) The tempo is slow, but those long lines hold together. But this is one of those interpretations that pushes you out of the opera and focuses you on who is doing the singing. Fleming is working the drama here for all it’s worth, and sometimes there is almost too much drawing out of the thing – for example at 4.30 at the repeat of the A section where she slows down dramatically. She hits you with the Wall of Renée Fleming Sound and the experience is a bit like being a fly trapped in amber. Everything around you appears luminously beautiful but after a while you realize you can’t move.
The second item is Joyce DiDonato singing the same. This performance moves more quickly. And DiDonato does some really nice things with the vocal line – for example beginning at 12.10. The emotion is coming through in how the music moves and through the details of the ornamentation, not just (as with Fleming) via the sheer sound of the thing. That ‘ciel’ at 14.16 is lovely, and the way the last phrase comes to a rest at 14.36 really, really works. There is no scenery-chewing here.
Here is DiDonato’s “Di, cor mio,” from the same recording. The music just rolls – there’s a wonderful rhythmic push and pull to it. And DiDonato’s interpretation suggests a wheedling coyness that is perfect for Alcina.
But anyway. Fleming’s approach is not SOP for Handel. I can see the argument for liking it, and I can see the argument for not liking it. It’s not idiomatic Handel, but it’s definitely idiomatic Renée Fleming.