This is good: Handel without histrionics. The music and words
speak to us without singers hurling themselves about the stage
in paroxysms of ecstatic love or bewailing their despair. Plenty
of emotion but no cataclysms of it.
Of course, it
is a simple story with no sub-plot to confuse or obfuscate;
simple because it is based on love, sex, betrayal, jealousy
and explanation with reconciliation. Ariodante, the King’s
son and Ginevra love each other. Polinesso, the Duke of Albany,
loves (or lusts after) Ginevra who dislikes him intensely;
whilst he himself is loved by Dalinda, the lady in waiting
to Ginevra. So besotted is Dalinda that she is persuaded by
Polinesso to dress that night as Ginevra and to admit him
to her apartment via a secret garden-door. As Polinesso intended,
Ariodante witnesses this. Unbeknown to all, Ariodante’s brother
Lurcanio, in love with Dalinda, also sees these events. When
told the following day of Ginevra’s supposed conduct, the
King denounces and condemns to death his ‘wanton’ daughter
who temporarily ‘loses her marbles’.
wandering alone rescues Dalinda from Polinesso’s hired assassins
and learns the truth from her. Lurcanio kills Polinesso in
combat and all are reconciled. Well certainly in the Handel
score and libretto: but Director John Pascoe adds a touch
of wilfulness to his production set in 1957. He adds nothing
to the text but immediately before the final curtain he depicts
the abdication of the King in favour of his daughter and soon-to-be
son-in-law who themselves then down the trappings of majesty
and run to the back of the stage. Well the original libretto
was based on the topsy-turvey world of Ariosto in Orlando
furioso, so why not.
Pascoe chose 1957
because this production, among others in 2007, celebrated
the 50th anniversary of the Spoleto festival. Bringing
it forward to a time of living memory works well providing
that you accept one or two oddities/anachronisms. For example
the king condemning his daughter to death because he believes
she spent the night with the ‘wrong’ man. Even assuming he
had the power, I would have thought that in 1957 such would
have been ‘swept under the royal carpet’. Remember that it
was not for another 12 years that Royal ‘openness’ started
to appear (1969) when for the first time cameras were allowed
to film the young British Royal family at home. Second, mortal
combat in 1957? - I think not, even though the opera is set
in Scotland. And before that comment leads to complaints please
look at my surname.
But does any of
that or similar ‘difficulties’ really matter. No, because
this production carries all before it in a wave of understated
but totally convincing baroque opera at its best.
The first time
I watched this DVD I did wonder about the lack of the extremes
of tempi. Later I watched conductor Alan Curtis in
his introduction talking about this and justifying his decisions.
I was tempted to retort: well he would say that wouldn’t he?
However on the second and subsequent runs-through I concluded
that whatever Handel might have thought, the pace chosen for
each number brought out the essence of the music. With dynamics
to match, the singers are afforded every opportunity to excel
- which is precisely what they do.
sings the title ‘trouser’ role, with perhaps a hint of gentle
underplay: contrasting to her advantage with other performers
of this role. She has total note accuracy throughout her required
wide range with splendidly non-noticeable transfers from head
to chest. Her excellent runs and her soft trills provide great
pleasure; as does the balance of sound with Laura Cherici
as Ginevra. They are a seriously good vocal foil for each
With just an occasional
early suggestion of vocal waywardness (which never re-appears),
Cherici makes joy shine through her words in Act I particularly
in Volate, amori with superb runs and trills. And converts
that to convincing depths of misery at the end of Act II.
She is completely persuasive of the highs and lows of her
The twin-set and
pearls of Marta Vandoni Iorio seem to me to raise the level
of awareness of her role if only because of the contrast with
the more regal, military or evening costumes of the others.
She does not have the most powerful voice but it is ideal
for this comparatively small theatre and to balance with this
cast. This is a totally relaxed Dalinda, comfortable in her
role, with vocal clarity, gentle runs and attention holding
arias and duets.
is a Polinesso justifiably popular with the audience. Alan
Curtis, in his introduction, refers to a preference for a
mezzo-soprano to a counter–tenor in this role because he says
that generally a mezzo has greater versatility in the lower
register. He re-enforces his point by telling us that Handel
wrote this role for a female voice.
What is without
doubt is that Nesi despatches the role with superbly judged
supercilious arrogance and strong coloratura. If there is
occasional ‘body-waggle’, it is a small price for runs and
trills of such pleasure and some gloriously deep mezzo notes.
I particularly enjoyed the vocal and dramatic interchanges
with Iorio. Nesi is bored by Iorio’s dogged devoted attention
whilst Iorio quietly smoulders with some ‘come hither’ looks.
Acting of a high order to accompany vocal excellence. Taken
to a different level with a nazi-style salute at the end of
Nesi’s aria to dishonesty Se l’inganno (disc 1 Act
II track 5 after Iorio’s aria Se tanto al piace cor).
She repeats the salute in her aria before the King Dover,
giustizia but twists her arm in convincing embarrassment
at her thoughtless display. Two moments which now seem a bit
‘John Cleese-ish’ but are anything but: this is 1957, only
12 years after the end of World War II: the memory of evil
was still strong.
sings the faithful Lurcanio with his distinctive and enjoyable
timbre. He convinces vocally (and in acting) of the strength
of his love compared with the devious protestations of Nesi.
Here is a clear and assertive Lurcanio. He is allowed to effect
one dreadful stage situation for a few bars whilst singing
to Dalinda of his love for her. In this production she has
remained on stage for his aria Del mio sol vezzosi rai
part of which he sings kneeling, with his arms around her
waist, as she ungainly leans forward over his shoulder. It
looks unnaturally awful - the incomplete rugby tackle or fireman’s
lift - but it does allow her to look down at him as they untangle
as if seeing him with new eyes: but for me the price for that
dramatic touch is too great.
I sometimes think
that a bass role with any coloratura, baroque or otherwise,
presents difficulties for that vocal register. Here Carlo
Lepore copes well with the earlier aria Voli con la sua
tromba (sic in booklet and DVD scene summary but
he correctly sings Voli colla sua tromba). He is outstanding
later in Invida sorte avara with his wonderfully deep,
almost black, voice. Vittorio Prato despatches the role of
Odoardo with suitable gravity.
The ballet scenes
at the end of Act II rely upon the role-play of characters
in the opera and are no less, if not more, effective for that.
The sets are also extremely effective. The lighting is very
good – unobtrusive for the daylight scenes and suitably atmospheric
for the night time. The silhouettes and tableaux are outstanding.
They are particularly striking where movement of other characters
occurs during ‘intervals’ in an aria but ceases immediately
the aria resumes leaving tableaux upon which the camera focuses
well. Another excellent feature of this production is the
number of times characters remain on stage after their aria
– not all ‘exit arias’ here. Similarly characters who are
supposedly not on stage, sometimes are. Both features add
very considerably to plot continuity. In addition Pascoe makes
use of side mirrors and a descending Order of the Garter insignia.
The significance of the former is self evident. He explains
the significance of both in his introduction which you may
What is incontrovertible
however is that this is a very very good DVD of a great Handel
opera. If you yourself need to expand your horizon and move
into the baroque - or know someone who would like to do so
- then you will be hard put to start with anything better.