Katie Mitchell Stages Handel’s Alcina

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Erato DVD
ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Alcina
PERFORMER: Patricia Petibon, Philippe Jaroussky, Anthony Gregory, Anna Prohaska, Katarina Bradic; Choeur MusicAeterna; Freiburger Barockorchester/Andrea Marcon; dir. Katie Mitchell (Aix-en-Provence, 2015)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 9029597436; Blu-ray: 9029597435  

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Katie Mitchell’s staging of Handel’s 1735 opera focuses on female desire and the terror of being undesired. Chloe Lamford’s split-level designs centre around an elegant bedroom, with dingy laboratories to either side and above. There are two Alcinas (Patricia Petibon and actress Juliet Alderdice), one young, one old, and two Morganas (Anna Prohaska and actress Jane Thorne), whose sexual identity is explored in balletic BDSM. The characters ‘age’ each time they step out of the gilded chamber and into the laboratories, their movements perfectly in sync. 

Alcina’s former lovers have been turned into taxidermy. The only constant love, and this is fractious and imperfect, is that of Oronte (Anthony Gregory) for both incarnations of Morgana. Even the reunion of Ruggiero (Philippe Jaroussky) and Bradamante (Katarina Bradic) has lost its lustre by final curtain. The direction of the singers, and Alcina’s silent retinue of five servants, is outstanding. 

Gregory sings with lean elegance. Bradic displays brilliant technique. Though Jaroussky pecks at his coloratura and has limited range as an actor, his intricately decorated ‘Verdi prati’ is irresistible. Prohaska spins exquisite lines while writhing to the touch of a riding crop and a feather tickler. Petibon is sensational throughout: supremely confident in the pathos and neurotic pyrotechnics of Alcina’s music and character. In the pit, Andrea Marcon directs the Freiburger Barockorchester smartly, with a shiver of sul ponticello bowing in ‘Ombre pallide’ and plenty of whalebone in the Overture, Act III Sinfonia and dance music. 

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Anna Picard