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Review: ALCINA at Santa Fe Opera

George Frideric Handel composed the opera seria, ALCINA, for a 1735 premiere at the London's Theatre Royal. Handel's anonymous librettist based his text on Riccardo Broschi's 1728 Roman libretto for L'ISOLA DI ALCINA. Three years fter its 1735 run, ALCINA was revived but after that it fell dormant until the twentieth century. On July 29, 2017, Santa Fe Opera premiered a co-production of ALCINA with the National Opera of Bordeaux and the Teatro Real of Madrid. It was reconceived for the Santa Fe theater.

Director David Alden included acrobats in his production and showed the effects of Alcina's ability to turn humans into animals. Those ideas, plus his use of dance in unexpected moments, provided an amusing ambiance for Handel's opera seria. Gideon Davey's opening scenery included a white quasi-baroque box at stage right and a huge wave on the left. The back of the stage was open to the sunset. Later, he added a wall of doors, imaginary animal skeletons, a plethora of chairs, and small lighted houses. Except for Alcina's flowing dark gowns, Davey's costuming was generally rooted in the nineteen fifties. Malcolm Rippeth's lighting design aided in telling this complicated story while Beate Vollack's choreography was fun to watch.

The story takes place on an island that belongs to the sister sorceresses, Alcina and Morgana. As Morgana, Anna Christy opened with a aria that required her to sing various kinds of trills and generally show her technical prowess with speed and dynamics. In this opera, Handel requires excellent technical skills of all his singers from soprano Christy as Morgana to bass-baritone Christian Van Horn who sang an exemplary Melisso.

This kind of specialized singing also takes a great deal of stamina. The role of Alcina, in particular, calls for a series of arias that test every aspect of the singer's talent. Elza van den Heever sang her da capo arias with runs, trills, added decorations and a wide tapestry of dramatic vocal colors. As Oberto, a boy searching for his father, Jacquelyn Stucker had a slightly smaller part and an easier load, but mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy sang a full compliment of opera seria arias with honeyed tones as the knight Ruggiero.

Resonant voiced Daniela Mack never seemed to tire as she sang Bradamante with bronze tones. Her husband, Alek Shrader, was a lively and bright-sounding Oronte. Singers who are married to other singers do not often get to sing together, so I think the couple is enjoying this production immensely.

Santa Fe Opera's Chief Conductor Harry Bicket is internationally renowned for his work with baroque opera and this was yet another example of his excellent leadership. The orchestra responded to his downbeat with crisp, clean playing that resulted in a lean, classical sound. On two occasions there were solo instruments on stage, first a violin and later a cello who played an exquisite duet with Christy's Morgana. That was an extra special treat. Handel's ALCINA is a different type of opera that is more about singing than about theater, but Santa Fe Opera turned ALCINA into a feast for both eye and ear.

Known as "The City Different," Santa Fe is high in New Mexico's mountains and relatively cool in summer. Operagoers often bring food, tables, chairs, dishes, silverware, and even fine wine glasses with them to the theater so they can tailgate in elegance before performances. As the sun begins to set over the surrounding mountains, opera lovers eat, drink, and enjoy each other's company.

Photo Credit: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera

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