Opera Vivente’s pleasing production of Handel’s Alcina was presented intimately as a chamber opera in the parish hall of Baltimore’s Emmanuel Church. The space’s vast wooden ceiling, beams, and floor provided a favorable acoustic for the singers, while the Harmonious Blacksmith Ensemble, situated on the right side of the room, were distant for neither the audience nor the singers. Stage director (and General Director of the company) John Bowen’s update of Alcina’s already exotic setting -- a magical island -- proved entertainingly clever and logical: the island’s inhabitants were now frisky hippies dressed in colorful garb (thanks to costume designer Debra Kim Sivigny) with siren-like Alcina (Colleen Daly) their stunning leader.
Tim Smith, Opera Vivente's 'Alcina': It's groovy, baby (Baltimore Sun, October 30)
Tim Smith, Free to be (Baltimore Sun, October 22)
The Chorus of Hippies introduced early in Act I lounging on floor cushions, getting stoned, helped reinforce the tropical, beyond-reality atmosphere of this opera. Having attracted a multitude of lovers to her island only to turn them into rocks, trees, streams, and so on, after seducing them, Alcina believes she has found her true love, the strayed fiancé of Bradamante (Monica Reinagel), who is intent to win back her future husband Ruggiero (Elspeth Franks). Let the schemes and competitions begin…
Morgana (soprano Ah Hong), Alcina’s attendant, provided the most persuasive singing by merging musical wit with strong acting and facial expressions, all while showcasing superbly clear text and vocal agility. Having the most strenuous role, Ruggiero (mezzo Elspeth Franks) met the challenge formidably by powerfully conveying the confusion caused by Alcina’s spell that was eventually broken. The rich tone of soprano Colleen Daly as Alcina was sometimes compromised by rhythmic uncertainty and a constant lack of consonances leading to muddled diction; bass Christopher Austin's commanding sound, as Melisso, at times lacked the dexterity to tackle Handel’s twists and turns. What one at first might imagine as a pun, turned out not quite to be so: the Chorus of Hippies lacked coordination of text, which at first appeared intentional because they were stoned in Act I. The Chorus exults in the opera’s happy ending by singing “after all the bitter sadness, our souls have been rewarded” as Alcina’s former lovers become again human.
Colleen Daly as Alcina, Opera Vivente, 2007
photo by Cory Weaver
Conductor Joseph Gascho provided exceptionally stylish leadership, though frequently failed to impose his demands on both singers and instrumentalists alike. The strings were perpetually out-of-tune, while the basso continuo lacked enough “oomph” to ground the work securely, thus leading to recurring coordination issues. All this could have been easily remedied by being unfailingly strict, as there is no room for sloppiness of any kind in such a cozy environment. Interestingly, the most complex material (lots of invertible counterpoint) often fully locked and must have been sufficiently rehearsed making it disappointing to hear simpler bits less than ideal. Take the opportunity to experience the remarkable work by an impressive company.
Opera Vivente will repeat this production on Thursday (November 1, 7:30 pm) and Saturday (November 3, 7:30 pm).