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Handel - Ariodante

 

English National Opera 1 & 3 June 2006
Conductor – Christopher Moulds
Revival director – David Alden & Ian Rutherford
Designer – Ian MacNeil

 

 

The King of Scotland Peter Rose

Ginevra Rebecca Evans

Ariodante Alice Coote

Lurcanio Paul Nilon

Polinesso Patricia Barden

Dalinda Sarah Tynan


 

This production was first seen in 1993 (when it was a co-production with WNO and designed to fit their smaller touring venues rather than the letter-box shape of the Coliseum's big stage) and it was revived in 2003. Much was written in its praise on both those occasions, but this evening I was seeing it for the first time, and so came to it with new eyes.

 

Act 1 is set in the palace of the King of Scotland, decorated in the soft colours of slightly decayed grandeur and all the rococo elegance of a painting by Watteau or Fragonard. Costumes are a perfect match for this setting as is the charming ballet sequence (original choreographed by Michael Keegan Dolan).

 

For Act 2 (in Handel's libretto a forest on the Scottish coast) we move to an imaginary world reached by a ladder through the cupola of the now lopsided ceiling, and Ginevra's concluding nightmare is a tour de force. By the third act the palace has reached the point of serious dilapidation, and the sea in which Ariodante almost drowns has waves like the rotating screw of a giant mincing machine. Next follows the fight scene, in full armour, most convincingly staged by William Hobbs.

 

Those are the good points, but on the whole I found David Alden's production over fussy, with lots of writhing on the floor and jumping down from a picture frame at the back of the stage, all tending to confuse rather than elucidate the plot. It didn't carry the audience either - I noticed an awful lot of yawning during the first interval, and there were several outbursts of laughter towards the end of the last act at some of the recits which tidied up the loose ends and brought the plot so conveniently to a happy ending... [Alden desperately tried to keep up the interest howsoever, but the multitudes of da capos became wearisome, and routine embellishments of the repeats no longer impressed us. Editor]

 

But the long evening (3 hrs 45 mins) was entirely justified by Handel's wonderful music, played by an orchestra on top form under the direction of Christopher Moulds, and with a splendid cast of singers whose diction was so good that the surtitles were virtually redundant.

 

Alice Coote was first class in the title role, and superb in the gently despairing Scherza infida in Act 2, producing real vocal fireworks in her fiendishly difficult Act 3 outburst Doppo notte . Rebecca Evans was equally impressive as Ginevra, perhaps at her finest in the disturbing mad aria Il mio crudel .

 

Not far behind these two experienced singers was Sarah Tynan, a member of ENO's YSP, giving a lyrical and beautifully controlled performance as the gullible Dalinda, who has a particularly hapless time being thrown to the ground seemingly at every possible opportunity.

 

The normally reliable Paul Nilon, taking the role of Lurcanio with ENO for the third time, turned this anti-hero into a fully rounded character but sounded a little taxed at times excusable in his opening aria which he was required to sing lying down and draped from a ledge at the extreme back of the stage.

 

Peter Rose was firm toned as the King and Patricia Bardon was aggressively villainous as the brutish Duke Polinesso, though I must confess to a preference for a counter tenor in this role.

 

Serena Fenwick

 

© Peter Grahame Woolf