One of my objectives in my popular operas course (to begin in September at U of T) is to survey the operas being presented by the local companies. In anticipation of the Canadian Opera Company’s fall season production of Handel’s Ariodante –an opera that’s new to me—and one set to open in a few weeks’ time, I found a video at a library, a recording that’s still available.
You could do worse than to watch this erotically charged interpretation directed by David Alden, an English National Opera co-production with Welsh National Opera, from the London Coliseum, featuring the ENO chorus & orchestra conducted by Ivor Bolton.
Although the story is from Orlando Furioso it has some similarities to one of the romantic plots of Much Ado About Nothing. But where the Shakespeare plot sees a woman slandered to a fiancé denouncing her to a father who refuses to believe the slander, in this tale the betrothed is her champion to a condemning father.
This is a relatively simple plot to follow. Polinesso is an ambitious schemer, plotting against the happiness of a royal couple in love, Ariodante and Ginevra. Ginevra’s father is a king who approves of Ariodante both as a suitor and as his successor. The opera unfolds as a happy celebration for the first act, until a conversation early in the second act between Polinesso and Ariodante on the eve of the wedding, when Polinesso boasts he has been Ginevra’s lover. Polinesso enlists the aid of Dalinda (a woman who pursues him), who disguises herself as Ginevra. Polinesso fools Ariodante as well as his brother Lurcanio. The storyline turns from celebration to tragedy, as Ariodante despairs and then tries to kill himself, unsuccessfully. Ginevra is imprisoned, her fantastic dreams enacted in dance to end the second act. The last act leads to eventual redemption for all, as Lurcanio avenges his brother (whom he believed to be dead) by killing Polinesso. Ariodante re-appears, not dead after all, proclaiming Ginevra’s innocence and asking that Dalinda be forgiven. The story progresses from darkness to light and eventual celebration.
Ann Murray is very sympathetic in the trouser role of Ariodante, singing fabulously, as believable as one could wish in some very tight camera work. Joan Rodgers as Ginevra is especially good, whether as the joyful bride or the wronged woman going mad in her lonely cell surrounded by hallucinatory images.
Christopher Robson, counter-tenor, brings a genuine menace to the role of Polinesso, the evil genius at the heart of the story. Robson embraces the evil possibilities of the role, and invited by the direction to go a bit over the top. Lesley Garrett makes a great deal of the role of Dalinda, the one who obsesses over Polinesso and does his bidding in the conspiracy, and is later forgiven: a full night of singing and acting for any performer. Tenor Paul Nilon as Lurcanio brings a wonderful bright sound to his arias, including lots of interpolated high notes. Gwynne Howell as a solid and sympathetic King anchors the production.
I’m eager to see the COC production (a co-production with Féstival d’Aix-en-Provence, Dutch National Opera, Amsterdam and Lyric Opera of Chicago), set to open October 16th. Conducted by Johannes Debus, directed by Richard Jones, we’ll see Alice Coote as Ariodante, Jane Archibald as the wronged Ginevra, Ambur Braid as Dalinda and Varduhi Abrahamyan as the ambitious Polinesso (here’s a video from the young singer’s website). Given that the plot requires us to believe that Polinesso is irresistible to Dalinda, I think this will be very interesting.
I can’t wait.