BWW Review: ALCINA at Washington National Opera
Alcina showcases all the best aspects of Handel's skill without getting bogged down by melismatic asides. Every aria has a purpose. Every word moves the plot forward or gives depth to the characters. Indeed, the show moves briskly. (The "approximately three hour" run time is a bit of an overstatement.)
Angela Meade plays the title roll beautifully. Her command of the stage radiates throughout the theatre. We must do as this sorceress says while we remain trapped on her island. Or else. Her sorcery entices lovers, but as soon as she's bored with them she turns them into animals, rocks, or plants to litter her island. These are represented as a chorus dressed in all black who wander the stage. While their presence is at times haunting, their blocking comes across like an afterthought.
Alcina's sister Morgana is played by Ying Fang in her WNO debut. Her sweet and fluid movements are in direct contrast to Alcina's stubbornness. She wears a pale pink, almost white, chiffon dress while Alcina's costume is a vibrant satin fuchsia that lays heavily upon her shoulders and drags along the floor.
Like Ferdinand in the Tempest, when the young knight Ruggiero arrives to Alcina's island all manner of magical confusion ensues. It only escalates when Bradamante, Ruggiero's fiancé, follows him to the island and realizes that Ruggiero has forgotten her and is falling under Alcina's spell.
Mezzo-sopranos Elizabeth DeShong and Daniela Mack play Ruggiero and Bradamante respectively. Both possess brilliant instruments. The rich color of each of their voices moves deftly through Handel's notorious melismas. In particular, Mack's characterization and freedom in her body as she runs around on stage in combat boots and camo-a disguise, of course, this is opera-goes a long way to keep the story feeling fresh and relatable to a modern audience.
Even though original productions of Alcina likely cast castrati instead of women in the role of Ruggiero, it's refreshing to watch an opera that is female-focused. They are not the stereotypical mothers and maids, but women who are seen as powerful. Perhaps even more powerful than the men. Indeed, this production is helmed by two women: director, Anne Bogart and conductor, Jane Glover. Not only is Alcina female-focused, but it is also Baroque. Well done to the WNO for this unanticipated choice, and for killing two birds with one stone.