I watched this production of Ariodante again. I think it was an excess of Verdi the past week or two. I felt like hearing something Baroque. I wrote about this DVD ages ago, but I want to rework what I said a little bit.
First of all, Ariodante is not a warhorse in terms of DVDs. A cursory Amazon search turns up only one other version, from the English National Opera in the 90s, sung in English. Some of the Amazon reviews make me want to go out and buy it right now, e.g. “a baroque nightmare”, “the director has a weird personal agenda,” “stunningly modern,” “Polinesso looks like Professor Snape,” and my favorite, “the singers are very unattractive.” This sort of sounds right up my alley, if you want to know the truth. Except for that it’s in English.
Anyway. With regard to the DVD that I actually watched rather than the one I merely read exciting things about, many of the things that struck me the first time struck me again the second. Particularly what I said about Marta Vandoni Iorio as Dalinda. Iorio has a small, pretty voice. But she makes Dalinda far more interesting than the story might be thought to allow. She doesn’t necessarily make her sympathetic, and certainly not heroic — but she makes her interesting. More interesting than Ginevra in some ways.
Ginevra is one of those Handel heroines to whom things happen. She doesn’t do much other than react. She insists on her innocence, and very forthrightly, but that’s about all. Here is a sample:
Laura Cherici does some nice things with this. This is stylish, idiomatic, and expressive Handel singing. The emotion in baroque operas can by stylized, and in terms of acting it struck me on re-watching this again that Cherici’s gestures (I don’t know how much of this is directing and how much is the singer herself) are just the right balance of natural and that sort of not-quite-artificial-but-not-naturalistic that often works so well with baroque opera. I noticed this particularly toward the end, after about 5.20 or so.
But there is only so much you can do with Ginevra, I think, because there is no ambiguity about her. She is Good. And that is really the end of it. (Can we hear it again for Vitellia? Vitellia is my favorite opera character ever, I think.)
Which is why I enjoyed Mary-Ellen Nesi’s Polinesso so much, I think. You could argue that Nesi hams it up a little, but it works. Polinesso is very clearly full of shit. “Dover, giustizia,” in Act III is the perfect example of this — Nesi uses the ornamentation in the repeat to show how Polinesso is getting carried away by his own bullshit, and it’s really rather fun. And she has a nice voice for this kind of part. I have this feeling I have seen her name or heard her somewhere before, but I can’t remember what specifically it was.
But the thing that struck me most about this production was the scale. Most of the opera I see or watch tends to be in big opera houses. But not always. This production reminded me, weirdly enough, of a production of Le Nozze di Figaro that I saw when I was in graduate school. It was in a small auditorium, performed by undergraduates, and it was really kind of startlingly good. This picture is from it – it’s Susanna and I think Basilio or Bartolo. (This is the problem when your whole cast is like 20. It’s hard to tell people apart.)
But that performance of Figaro had a feeling of intimacy to it. And this DVD does too. The intimacy doesn’t necessarily translate into deeper emotion — in fact, I would say that in this Ariodante it definitely does not — but there’s something to be said for the atmosphere itself.