(I’d be more interested in a ballet of disagreeable sponges, but that’s just me.)
This production of Handel’s Ariodante has a little twist at the end that I rather liked – it was particularly effective in that the production itself on average does not scream “weird!” or “we’re going to mess with this opera!” It’s set in what looks like a farmhouse in Scotland in the 1940s. (Or, based on the amount of hair and mild griminess and puppets and lots of chunky sweaters, possibly in the vicinity of the Evergreen State College in the 1990s.) During the overture, we see a minister, who turns out to be Polinesso (Sonia Prina) leading a religious service around the table – Polinesso reminds everyone of the evil of women and so on and so forth.
Ever notice how the king’s Act II aria in Ariodante, “invida sorta avara” / “cruel, envious fate” sounds a lot like Alcina’s “mi restano le lagrime”?
Here is “invida sorta avara,” sung by Matthew Brook:
Handel wrote some wonderful music for angry soprano. This video below is Dalinda’s aria “Neghittosi, or voi che fate?” from Act III of Ariodante. Dalinda is calling on heaven to punish Polinesso for his evil deeds.
Just so we can put all that opera in English firmly behind us, here are two (two!) great performances of “scherza infida,” in Italian in the approved manner. The first is Joyce DiDonato, the second Janet Baker.
(Also, did you know that apparently you can get “scherza infida” as a ringtone on your phone? I learned this on the internet just now. I don’t think I’d want my phone to be tinkling “scherza infida” at me every time someone called – but hey, that’s just me.)
There is nothing really obviously bizarre about this production. There is no nudity except for the odd breast among the dancers during the ‘Ginevra’s dream’ ballet sequence, and we are all kind of used to that sort of thing with opera by now. There are no puppets or lasers or gallons of stage blood or anything like that. There is not even any smoking, although Polinesso does lick the tip of his walking stick in a way that leaves very little to the imagination as far as symbolism goes.
[Part one is here.]
As I said, there is some music in this opera. This is a very good performance of Ariodante. The DVD under discussion here is well and stylishly done and there is plenty to enjoy in it, but in terms of voices and interpretation and general dramatic heft, this ENO one is bigger and more interesting.
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.
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.