The Bloomington Early Music Festival opened this past weekend with performances of George Frederic Handel’s opera Alcina in a nicely realized production. There is an outstanding cast, interesting staging by James Middleton and fine conducting by Stanley Ritchie.
Alcina is based on those same wild stories of knights, sorcerers and enchantments that drove Don Quixote crazy. You-Seong Kim sang the role of Alcina with drama, precision and a certain commanding aloofness. Alcina’s enchanted beau, Ruggiero, was sung by Jessica Riley. Riley sang well and without trying to overly ape masculinity, she did a good job of playing the young hero. Alcina’s sister Morgana was sung by Wanda Yang. Yang had some simply unbelievable moments of vocal power and control. She also got to ham it up a bit, which she did with obvious pleasure. Aaron Sheehan competently handled the part of Orante, Morgana’s boyfriend. The heroine and sometimes hero of Alcina , Bradamante, was sung to good effect by Maya Frieman Hoover. Bradamante’s aid, Melisso, was sung by Matt Ofschin. Ofschin did a very nice job with his singing and as the only low voice in the cast, his work was always especially welcome. Brooke Evers had the part of Oberto, who sought to rescue his gather from Alcina’s enchantments.
Just for fun, let me summarize. There are two girls who are supposed to be guys all the time. Thre are two guys who are supposed to be guys all the time. There are two girls who are supposed to be girls all the time. There is one girl who is supposed to be a boy some of the time. Actually, on stage at the Bloomington Early Music Festival this is all pretty clear, most of the time.
A fully rigged theatre in Handel’s day was a real toyshop for designers and directors. "Alcina"’s
James Middleton has had to work with only a fraction of those resources, but his dramatic use of the canvas backdrop and a few multi-sided flats to create a variety of scenes of an enchanted island served well.
Among the particular pleasures of the Bloomington Early Music Festival’s production of Alcina , conducted by Stanley Ritchie, was the variety and beauty of the mix of the vocals and the orchestra. it seemed that each aria had its own special timbral treatment. There were times when the orchestral playing was sparse. There were times when it was full. During one aria, the violins might be featured. During another, the singer might seem to part of a chorus with the oboes. There was even a brief duet dual with a singer and horn.
Director James Middleton has said that Handel’s Italian operas didn’t survive because the snobs like opera to be more inaccessible than Handel’s were and the general audience was afraid of Italian. This seems to suggest that those who aren’t snobs and aren’t afraid of Italian will find a lot to enjoy in Alcina and that is indeed the case.
The Bloomington Early Music Festival continues with concerts at various venues through the 29th. Handel’s opera Alcina has its final performance Saturday at seven at the Buskirk Chumley Theatre.