Tag: Handel

Alcina (last time, I promise)

The best parts of Alcina, to my mind, are the parts where the characters are disillusioned, deceived, lying or regretting/worrying about things that are not or might not be real. One can argue quite reasonably that this is an opera about love; I think the claim can also be made that this is an opera about lies.

And the music does not come down one hundred percent on the side of truth. The idea that music was a kind of sweet deception, sometimes a dangerously sweet deception, was a truism in Handel’s day. I mean, it’s there – but it isn’t, right? It makes you feel things, but sometimes it’s not at all clear why. Words like chant, chanson and enchantment are all related to one another; the idea clearly goes back even further than the eighteenth century. (The analytical move made in the previous sentence operates more smoothly in Romance languages — and the bits of English, like chant and enchant, that derive from French — than it does in say, German, but since this opera is in Italian I suspect I am going to get away with it.)

Some of the most haunting music in Alcina is about lies and illusions. ‘Verdi prati,’ for example. There is also Ruggiero’s aria ‘mio bel tesoro’ from Act II, which is one of the parts of this opera that I always forget how much I like. I think it’s the two recorders. Ever notice how recorders tend to turn up in baroque operas at fairly well-defined times? It’s death, or it’s love/death/sex, or it’s ‘someone’s getting fucked with’. Here it’s the last. The recorders double and echo Ruggiero’s melodic line – just as Ruggiero is being double with Alcina.

And it may be that Handel is messing with us a little bit. My attention never flagged during this production of Alcina. The tension is never high, but it’s always there. The music is what is holding all this together, and the fact that music is holding together this rather creaky story about a gal with a fragile urn and some serious control issues vis-a-vis personal relationships — this is Handel showing us how clever he actually is.

Alcina (Vienna Opera – Harteros, Kasarova et al.) again

The ‘play-within-a-play’ conceit that this production uses is actually doing more work than it appears to. The first time I saw the introductory scene that occurs during the overture, my impression was that there was almost too much story going on. The program notes inform us that this is the Duchess of Devonshire (Georgiana Cavendish) and her circle, who are dressing up as the characters in Alcina for the ‘performance’ of the opera. (There are going to be a lot of quotation marks in this post).

read the rest


Handel’s Rodelinda is one of my favorite operas. For me, it began with this DVD about which I should write some day, because I have basically memorized the thing, and I’d hate for all that obsessive listening to go to waste (It’s Roeschmann, Palmer, Chance et al. at the Munich opera in 2004).

Anyway. I went looking this past summer for additional recordings of Rodelinda. There is this one conducted by Alan Curtis with Il Complesso Barocco with Simone Kermes as Rodelinda, which is nice although sort of chilly (but I like Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s Unulfo). I like live recordings, though, and other than the Munich DVD referenced above there aren’t many really good ones.

Except the one I got from these nice people at the Goettingen International Handel Festival. It’s of a performance from 2000, conducted by Nicholas McGegan with Robin Blaze as Bertarido and Dominique Labelle as Rodelinda. It took about two months for them to send it because the person who ran their shop was on holiday when I submitted the order and by the time she got back my one Europe-friendly credit card had expired so it didn’t work, and we had several very polite emails about that, and then I gave her the new expiration date and paid for the thing and she sent it to me. Anyway. I liked it.

For those whose boats are floated by this type of thing, here are the points about it that stood out to me:



I was thinking this afternoon of humor. Specifically, jokes in musical compositions that are purely musical – i.e. not staged as in opera.

There are things that are on the boundary between musical jokes and stage jokes. Such as this rendering of ‘Da tempeste’ from Handel’s Giulio Cesare, where at 3.05 or so the singer plays on the fact that a type of vocal ornamentation used in opera sounds like the noise kids make when they play at shooting one another with machine guns.

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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 which G. F. Handel thinks Scottish thoughts

Things I Wish I Had On My CV

So I was reading the last page of the liner notes of a recording of a Handel opera that about three people have ever heard of and, after “engineer” and “harpsichord technician” and all that, guess what there was? “Bear growl advisor” ! (There was a part in the opera where the hero saves a lady from a bear. This is different from the part where he saves another lady from a sea monster. It is that sort of opera.)

But anyway. If you work hard, study your bears, and hang about the fringes of the baroque opera scene, you too, boys and girls, can be Bear Growl Advisors! You will probably out-earn all of your friends with PhDs.

Imaginary Operas

Four operas that were never written.

1. Donizetti’s Lady Jane Grey. It sounded like a good idea at first, what with Jane being a vulnerable young girl who ends up dead (and as Poe once said, nothing is more romantic than a beautiful woman who dies! Nothing!), but Donizetti and his librettist ran into conflict as to how much of Jane’s education to leave out of the story. Also it made usurpers (sort of) the (sort of) heroes of the story, and the Italian censors didn’t like this concept. Reducing early modern politics to early nineteenth-century sentimental conventions is tougher than it looks.

2. Handel, Bradamante e Ruggiero. Version of Alcina in which Ruggiero actually is a girl rather than just being played by one. Epic sapphistry. Interestingly enough, this opera, despite being performed widely in the eighteenth century and after, disappeared in the early 1980s after Michel Foucault pointed out that the category of ‘lesbian’ as we now understand it was not operative in Handel’s day, and therefore the opera was in fact impossible. No one has seen it since.

3. Mozart, Der Bassa und Ich, a sort of suppressed first draft of Entführung in which Selim puts Konstanze in charge of his children. Hilarity ensues.

4. [technically a musical, but who cares] Rogers and Hammerstein, Jamestown! Sort of like Oklahoma! but nearly everyone dies of dysentery.