Handel – Alcina / Carnegie Hall 10-26-14

Today was, as they say, a good day. No barking from the dog; no smog; I went to see Alcina and the ensemble went whole hog.

But enough of that. (Someone was playing Ice-Cube from their car as I was walking home from the subway, and one thing kind of led to another in my head.) I am not sure where to start, this performance was so much fun. Perhaps the obvious. How much do we love Joyce DiDonato? We love her plenty, including her fabulous dress and knee-high boots. I heard some people behind me commenting that they didn’t like her hair. These people are clearly without any taste in haircuts whatsoever. Fauxhawks are AWESOME. (I love writing about opera. I can have crushes and get squealy and indulge my inner fourteen-year-old and just GO ON AND ON IN ALL CAPS ABOUT HOW AWESOME THINGS ARE and I feel not a bit ashamed.)

But of course what we really love about JDD is not her haircut but her voice. Many if not most reactions to Joyce DiDonato performances turn upon the question not of whether the house was brought down, but when. My vote for the down-bringing of the house is “ah, mio cor” in Act II. Because holy moly. The A section had a kind of controlled wildness to it; the B section cut loose with Alcina’s anger and frustration, and in the A section repeat I just got lost in all those ripples and movements of sound, that swelled to fill the hall and then drew back – Alcina is truly a sorceress, a little bit strange and eerie even when she is doing something as conventional as being in love, and this aria as DiDonato performs it reveals that fully. Other highlights included “mi restano le lagrime,” which singer and ensemble took at a quicker pace than I’m used to, but there was plenty of space for the JDD magic to happen – all those perfect little moments of phrasing, or dynamics, or a vocal line drawn out to just the right place; “si, son quella,” especially the bits with the solo cello and – well, I guess it was sort of one continued highlight in some ways. I remember thinking as we got into Alcina’s very first aria, “di, cor mio” how much I love hearing this voice in this hall. I am developing layer upon layer of DiDonato/Carnegie Hall memories.

DiDonato had ample assistance in the bringing down of the house. I thought Alice Coote as Ruggiero was fantastic. She sings this role with a kind of easy, effortless characterization, from Ruggiero’s quite funny rejection of disguised Bradamante early on to her completely spellbinding performance of “mi lusinga il dolce affetto.” There was a beautiful intimacy to this performance; you feel close up to what she is doing, but it never feels small; this was particularly evident both in this aria and in “verdi prati.” And “sta nell’Ircana” was a pretty rip-roaring good time too. (I can’t quite read all of my notes for this last one – I have “exciting” underlined, and then there’s another word, but I’m not sure what it is. I underlined it twice, though, so it seems it was important.)

Anna Christy as Morgana started off a little fluttery, but “torna a vag-hedgy-whatsit vagheggiar” (I can never spell that aria right the first time) was charming and funny, and the rest of the performance was most entertaining – she and Christine Rice as Bradamante were occasionally quite the comedy duo. The English Concert, directed by Bicket from the harpsichord, was as much fun to listen to this time as they were the last time I heard them. I have absolutely no problem with period instruments in a big modern hall (though there seemed to be a bit of technical difficulty with the horns during “sta nell’Ircana” – but perhaps I heard wrong). The violin solo in Morgana’s “alma sospira” and the solo cello at other points both carried just fine. The orchestral sound in general was light and dry, but in a pleasant way, and having a small ensemble like this makes the opera an ongoing conversation between singers and orchestra. One example of this was during Oronte’s (Ben Johnson’s) “semplicetto a donna credi” aria in Act I – you could feel the pulse of the music passing back and forth between tenor and orchestra. I have “I love the orchestra” written at several points in the margin of my notes and I see no reason to reconsider my judgement of six or seven hours ago. Finally, Anna Devin as Oberto got her moment too, with the boy’s “Barbara!” aria near the end of Act III – what sounded like a smallish, light soprano was perfectly capable of filling the hall.

So. When are we having Alcina fully staged at the Met? Soon, right?

21 thoughts on “Handel – Alcina / Carnegie Hall 10-26-14

  1. You’re right about the horns during Sta nell’Ircana! I heard it too here in London and thought it was me. I guess the horns have trouble finding their groove as they only have that one bit to play?

    Other than that it’s awesome reading about this show again 😀 And isn’t Alice Coote entirely, well, cute?


      1. Pretty much. Dunno, they sounded to me the way they always do in live performance. Are we talking about intonation or a blown note?


        1. Intonation. I guess that’s how it is, then. I don’t know, they didn’t strike me as odd with Les Talens Lyriques. Do they not play valveless horns as well?


          1. I’d guess both you and John are right. For comparison, here’s LTL’s from the Ann Hallenberg recital tour a couple of years ago, and [ahem] Gabrieli Consort’s from Beaune 2005. I didn’t hear the English Concert’s as strikingly worse than either, though I admit I am easily distracted by the mezzo at this point 🙂


            1. aha, the Beaune recording vindicates me 😉 but since I don’t know enough about period instruments I didn’t want to sound too harsh in my review. But to me the horns sounded like they had gone off for a month.


    1. About the horns, I had the same thought as you – they’ve only got the one big moment, so they don’t get much warm up. (A twitter buddy who saw the show in London too mentioned it as well, and told me that a third party told her it was some sort of period performance thing. Wish I knew a horn player who had been there and could explain.)

      Coote is great 🙂 I wish she’d do a recital here – I suspect it would be wonderful.


    1. I enjoyed your review too – as you pointed out, it’s a shame these performances aren’t being recorded! (At least, the one in NY wasn’t as far as I could tell)


  2. wow, i finally getting around to hear JDD ‘s recital at Carnegie Hall as broadcasted on medici.tv, such incredible voice! (for some reason i don’t hear her often enough..)


    1. I have never come away from one of her live performances without a great big dumb grin of happiness on my face. (I need to catch that recital on medici.tv – I have heard it will be up for a while, which is good)


  3. ‘So. When are we having Alcina fully staged at the Met? Soon, right?’
    When someone tells them that people actually wrote operas before 1780.

    Liked by 2 people

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