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Handel - Ariodante
Les Talens Lyriques / Christophe Rousset - conductor
The Barbican Hall – 27 March 2007

Ginevra – Danielle de Niese
Dalinda – Jael Azzaretti
Polinesso – Vivica Genaux
Ariodante – Caitlin Hulcup
Lurcanio – Topi Lehtipuu
Il re di Scozia – Olivier Lallouette

At this time yesterday the name Caitlin Hulcup was probably familiar to only a minority of opera goers, (for the record she was the winner of Opera Foundation Australia’s 2002 Scholarship and since then her career has made unobtrusive, steady progress) but last night she became the toast of the Handelian connoisseurs in a packed Barbican Hall. 

Caitlin Hulcup

For a relatively unknown singer to step in for the indisposed Angelika Kirschschlager in the title role of Ariodante at a day or so’s notice is a daunting prospect. To do so with poise in a semi-staged concert, without the safety net of the score in front of her, made Hulcup’s achievement spectacular.

She made a slightly tentative start, but once her big coloratura opening aria Con l’ali di costanza alza il suo volo amor was safely out of the way she settled and her performance gained in stature and confidence from that moment on. Her voice is particularly rich and well rounded in the lower register, showing to very fine advantage in the plaintive Scherza infida in grembo al drudo, and she made good use of her commanding stage.

Danielle de Niese is always one of the most alluring of heroines, and on this occasion she broadened her range of emotions to encompass Ginevra’s despair and madness.  Musically, she takes a few liberties, but on stage it is the totality of her performance that sweeps all before her. More vocal fireworks came from Vivica Genaux as the villain Polinessa, and she prowled the stage with predatory intensity. 

The second pair of lovers, Jael Azzaretti (Dalinda) and Topi Lehtipuu (Lurcanio), produced glittering coloratura and a gorgeous blend of voices in their final duet, sung on their knees as they edged closer to each other from opposite sides of the stage. 

I could find no credit in the programme for the staging, but the concert was presented in association with the Theatre des Champs-Elysee where it has completed a short run (in which Miss Kirschschlager was able to appear) in a fully staged and costumed version directed by Lukas Hemleb.  Whether or not he was also responsible for the Barbican’s staging, it was extremely well done, and made full use of the acting skills of the cast.

Ariodante was the first opera Handel wrote for the Covent Garden Theatre with its resident dance company. He added a ballet sequence at the end of each of the three acts and, and with an unusually high proportion of the story being set in the open air, he was also able to indulge in his fondness for pastoral music. Both these factors contribute to a very rich orchestral score. Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques took full advantage, both basking in the glorious Notte con lume di luna prelude and giving a very graphic account of the conflict between Ginevra’s good and bad dreams.

Serena Fenwick

Photo credit Askonas Holt