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S & H Opera Review

Handel, ‘Alcina,’ The Early Opera Company, Wigmore Hall, Friday July 5th 2002. (ME)



When it was first performed in London in April 1735, ‘Alcina’ was a huge success, not only because of the music but owing to the appeal of the extravagant sets and stage machinery required; it could almost be the perfect example of opera as the ‘Spectator’ of 1711 described it ‘…extravagantly lavish in decorations, its only design to gratify the senses and keep up an indolent attention in the audience.’ The Wigmore Hall audience were not, of course, treated to any exotic sets or costumes in this semi – staged concert performance, and as for ‘indolent attention,’ the playing and singing had to suffice to keep that up.

The Early Opera Company is a fairly young outfit, having made its first Wigmore Hall appearance in 2000, and its director has assembled a group of excellent young players and highly committed singers. If there were longueurs during the evening, they were principally the result of having three very similar voices in the parts of Alcina, Ruggiero and Morgana, with only Diana Moore’s vivid Bradamante sounding exactly right for her part.

The title role of the sorceress was taken by the gentle – voiced Geraldine McGreevy, whose sweet, elegant timbre might be better suited to a less fiery part; she sang beautifully and did her best with the role whilst never really managing to suggest the all – powerful enchantress, and her best moment was the Act 2 aria ‘Ah! Il mio cor’ where she evoked Alcina’s mixed feelings of despair and determination with great tenderness. Louise Mott’s Ruggiero was similarly lyrical of tone, and to my ears she did not sound suitable for the part, which needs a richer timbre in the manner of a Sarah Connolly, but she too sang and acted with real commitment, producing a lovely ‘Verdi Prati’ with elegant shaping of the phrases.

The show was stolen, as ‘Alcina’ often is, by the Morgana, this time in the voluptuous person of Mhairi Lawson. Ms Lawson knows how to work an audience, and by the end of ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’ she had most of the front rows eating out of her hand, and despite a few undisciplined and squally notes high up, she was entirely convincing. Diana Moore’s Bradamante was equally successful, her genuine mezzo soprano sounding wonderfully rich in contrast to the other lighter female voices, and I look forward to hearing her sing the alto part in the ‘St. Matthew Passion’ at the Proms on August 4th.

Andrew Foster – Williams contributed a sterling Melisso, his dark bass – baritone always reliable in ensemble, and the part of Oronte had been entrusted to Daniel Norman. This role was first sung by John Beard, the creator of such Handelian heroes as Jupiter in ‘Semele,’ and it should, ideally, be the preserve of a tenor who it would not be difficult to imagine singing ‘Where e’er You Walk’ beautifully, something I cannot imagine Mr. Norman doing, since his voice is rather dry and unyielding. His Italian is excellent, however, and he gave the role everything he had, bringing the character to strutting, posturing life.

Christian Curnyn’s direction of his small band of players was exemplary; no acerbic string tone here, and no lack of sympathy for the singers, either; the whole reminded me of William Christie’s management of Les Arts Florissants, and praise doesn’t come much higher than that in terms of ‘Early Music’ performance. Superbly led by Catherine Martin, the playing was beautifully shaped, finely articulated and bursting with verve from start to finish, the last act featuring some truly exciting horn playing from Anneke Scott and Joseph Walters.

The group will continue its exploration of sixteenth and early seventeenth operas with a performance of Purcell’s ‘King Arthur’ at the Wigmore on September 11th with some of the same cast: highly recommended.


Melanie Eskenazi


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