The sorceress Alcina, who like all the best celebrities lends her name to a glamorously packaged perfume, can, with a single squirt, turn ex-lovers and all who displease her into obedient creatures – a devoted King Charles spaniel, an attentive hare, a faithful lion...
Latest squeeze Ruggiero looks likely to end up with a furry face when he discovers that his new rival for Alcina's affections is his own wife in disguise, come to reclaim him. From here, audiences hold on tight as the plot twists and turns, but in this new staging they have a real friend in Jones, who makes sense of the ever-shifting affections and treats us with visual pleasures that match the outstanding musicianship.
Alcina (Lisette Oropesa), Emily D'Angelo and friend. Photo: Marc Brenner
For the cast is itself a dream. As slinky Alcina, in a desirable range of LBDs, is the superstar Cuban-American soprano Lisette Oropesa, strutting in her Laboutins as confidently as she soars and swoops through aria after aria with breathtaking ease, every note shot through with colour and personality from the big belter to the faltering whisper.Oropesa was heard last season in two Verdi roles, as innocent Gilda in Rigoletto and worldly Violetta in La Traviata. There seems to be no end to her talents.
In contrast to her shiny world, the people she casts a spell over are devout Puritans, propelled by Alcina into her sensual world, their simple pleasures overcome by lust. As her animal slaves, they pocket stolen comforters – Alcina's ribbon, Alcina's suspender belt, Alcina's panties. Puritan Ruggiero cannot resist her, but in a wonderfully expressive and beautifully sung performance by Canadian-Italian mezzo-soprano Emily D'Angelo, the inner struggle never wanes.
Franco-Armenian mezzo Varduhi Abrahamyan is Bradamante, disguised as 'Ricciardo' to regain her Ruggiero, putting up a fight with vocal vigour. And the quartet of wonderful women in this show is completed by soprano Mary Bevan as Alcina's sister Morgana, bringing the house down with her Act One closing song-and-dance turn 'Tornami a vagghegiar', her moves as nimble as a voice that fizzes with amusement and irrepressible zest for life.
Morgana (Mary Bevan) and Oronte (Rupert Charlesworth) make up. Photo Marc Brenner
Morgana's long-suffering suitor Oronte is the practical one around here, attending to his neatly kept potting shed while Morgana messes around with 'Ricciardo'. It's a handy place for the couple's reconciliation, and seldom has a single sock looked so sexy as when worn by Rupert Charlesworth, whose warmly sung Oronte is such a great catch.
Handel's music gets toes tapping. So Sarah Fahie gives the animals bewitching physicality and everyone takes part in the courtly dances and disco moves.
A rapturous reception on this first night was rewarded with a glimpse at the curtain calls of cellist Hetty Snell one of the many players in the orchestra of the Royal Opera House who added to this memorable evening solos that complemented the individual singers on stage. And there were cheers, stamping and whoops for young Malaki M Bayoh as little Oberto, looking for his missing father (currently a lion).
Malaki M Bayoh as Oberto with Varuhi Abrahamyan as Bradamante ('Ricciardo'). Photo: Marc Brenner
Here's one cheer more for the ROH Costume department. Those masks!!
Christian Curnyn, conducting at a very wide range of paces, from tortoise to hare, is an early music specialist, and this opera is right at home at the Royal Opera House: it was premiered at His Majesty's on this site in 1735, when the German-born, London resident composer was at his height.
He would surely have recognised and approved this highly decorative staging, with designer Antony McDonald's slide-on, slide-off glades, adorable animals and silvery, showbizzy, Austrian blinds, reminiscent of a cheap conjuring act.
All in all, this Alcina is a fantastic example of the unmatchable teamwork that is live opera, with all its creativity and life enhancement, in a week when this government showed its contempt for the art form by tugging at the strings of Arts Council England and so cutting funding. Music-lovers, fight back. Go to Alcina. It's magical.
Alcina is sung in Italian with English surtitles. Further performances are on 10, 14, 18, 22 and 26 November. Click here for booking
|What||Alcina, Royal Opera House review|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Embankment (underground)|
08 Nov 22 – 26 Nov 22, Eight performances, start times vary. Running time about 4hr, with one interval
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|