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Review: ALCINA at Artscape is a Sumptuous, Atmospheric Spectacle of an Opera

Review: ALCINA at Artscape is a Sumptuous, Atmospheric Spectacle of an Opera

ALCINA is a collaborative production by Cape Town Opera and UCT Opera School.

It is imperative that I begin this review by admitting that before viewing ALCINA, I was an opera-virgin. Well, this production was the perfect introduction to the genre.

Firstly, what a magical experience to be back at the Artscape after a lengthy COVID-induced hiatus. The excitement and anticipation of the audience-members could be felt throughout the lobby and my being ensconced in those plush, red seats felt like coming home after a long journey.

Matthew Wild, director of this collaboration between Cape Town Opera and UCT Opera School, has done a great job of shining a light on the theme of illusion in this production. He ties everything together to create a slick show that showcases both the beauty and the danger of illusion - in theatre and in life.

As soon as the lights dimmed, the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra transported us to Alcina's enchanted island where, without giving spoilers, the audience is immediately thrust into army-clad action. Conducted by Jeremy Silver, the Cape Philharmonic is, as always, flawless, and sometimes I could not help but stare at the perfectly synced musicians as if under a kind of Alcina-induced spell. I loved that the orchestra was on display and not hidden from view.

Briefly, ALCINA tells the tale of Bradamante's attempt to rescue her fiancée, Ruggiero, who has been seduced and placed under a spell by Alcina - a sorceress who rules her island with an iron fist (or, more accurately, with an enchanted mirror) along with her sister Morgana. Alcina seduces any men who are unlucky enough to seek refuge on her island and mercilessly turns them into wild beasts, waves, stones or, here, mannequins (Oh, how I adored the absurdism of the mannequins!) when she no longer has a use for them.

In the cast of seven there is no weak link. Each voice is as clear as a bell and the notes trill seemingly effortlessly from every singer. For me, the standouts were Setsoane Jeannette Ntseki as Morgana and Megan Kahts as Ruggiero who are both scene-stealers. Kahts commands the stage, even before she dons her army gear and Ntseki's comedic flair as the fickle and (frankly) often-aroused Morgana is a treat. I also particularly enjoyed Fanele Mkhwanazi as Oberto . Two different casts alternate so you might see different performers depending on when you go.

Review: ALCINA at Artscape is a Sumptuous, Atmospheric Spectacle of an Opera

In Act 3 (after the intermission), Ané Pretorius really shines when Alcina, as the woman scorned, descends into madness, quite literally unravelling by the hair, with mascara running down her face - which is so much fun to watch and the woman we have all been made to be at one point or another (with or without powers to summon evil spirits from the underworld or thereabouts). She was the highlight of the second half for me.

The set design by Wilhelm Disbergen is clever and maintains the pace throughout. The entire set is built on a large, circular revolving platform at the centre of the stage, which reimagines the island as the various parts of a Baroque theatre: such as the dressing rooms of Alcina and Morgana, a storeroom and Alcina's own stage where she exhibits herself and her conquests. Look out for the bronze-coloured clams that border Alcina's personal stage - they are beautiful. The multiple levels, the interconnected passageways between the different sections of the set and the constant rotation of the revolving stage allow us to follow the players as they move from place to place and to maintain the flow and energy of the piece. This was one of my many favourite aspects of the opera.

And the clothes! Both Alcina and Morgana's ballgowns are sumptuous and rich - they really added to the spectacle and I liked how both characters are slowly stripped of their elaborate outfits as the sorceress and her sister slowly lose control and become more vulnerable and exposed as the story progresses. Indeed, this production does not shy away from onstage costume changes. On the contrary, various characters strip down in front of the audience to change into other outfits. The changes are largely necessary for plot development and so are well-integrated into the scenes. Sometimes I was stressed about whether the actors would complete their changes on time but the cast deftly executed their transformations without a hitch.

If, like me, you are largely unfamiliar with opera and/or your Italian does not extend beyond understanding the menu at Mama Roma, do not despair. Subtitles are projected inconspicuously at the top of the proscenium arch. Since they are provided at the beginning of each scene and are not displayed for every single word of every single piece, they allow for enhanced understanding without detracting from the action onstage. They gave me the context of what was being communicated and the singers did the rest.

Review: ALCINA at Artscape is a Sumptuous, Atmospheric Spectacle of an Opera

I must comment on my favourite scene where Morgana rapturously declares her love for Ricciardo (who is, of course, Bradamante in disguise) on Alcina's stage - while glittery silver flecks rain down like metallic snowflakes. The effect, achieved by Faheem Bardien's always-atmospheric lighting design, is stunning and is a reminder of the magic that live theatre can produce.

Whether new to opera or a seasoned lover of this artform, all will fall under ALCINA's spell.

ALCINA runs only from 12 November to 16 November at the Artscape so act fast! Tickets cost from R100 to R340 through Computicket or Artscape Dial-A-Seat on 0214217695.

Photo credits: Kim Stevens



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It is imperative that I begin this review by admitting that before viewing ALCINA, I was an opera-virgin. Well, this production was the perfect introduction to the genre. Firstly, what a magical experience to be back in the Artscape after a lengthy COVID-induced hiatus. The excitement and anticipation of the audience-members could be felt through