Handel: Ariodante

LABELS: Dynamic
WORKS: Ariodante
PERFORMER: Ann Hallenberg, Laura Cherici, Arta Vandoni Iorio, Mary-Ellen Nesi, Carlo Lepore, Zhachary Stains, Vittorio Prato; Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis; dir. John Pascoe (Spoleto, 2007)
In John Pascoe’s self-designed production (sets and costumes) for the 2007 Spoleto Festival, Handel’s opera moves from its original setting of medieval Scotland to the 1950s, though Pascoe’s rationale for the change, outlined in an interview, sounds pretty flimsy. The Scottish baronial visuals also suffer from poor lighting – something that needed to be rethought for the cameras. The singers go through the motions without a huge amount of conviction, with Pascoe inventing tangentially relevant routines – there’s a lot of playing with cigarettes – to get them through the arias. These are sung with varying degrees of success. Best of the principals are Ann Hallenberg’s Ariodante, who shapes phrases nicely and combines technical skill with some spirit, and Mary-Ellen Nesi’s Polinessso, who provides some energy and presence. Though slender of tone, Marta Vandoni Iorio’s Dalinda is sung with a pretty, true voice, and her twin-set-and-pearls secretary to Laura Cherici’s Ginevra is one of the most consistent acting performances. Cherici’s defamed heroine, however, is sung in a frail soprano, sometimes out of tune. Zachary Stains’s Lurcanio is reedy, and Carlo Lepore’s King woolly, though he manages an effective dramatic account of the jovial but misled authority figure. In his own interview, conductor Alan Curtis notes that he has come to prefer using mezzo-sopranos to countertenors in roles Handel originally composed for castrato voices – something he argues the composer himself thought the better substitution. Curtis’s conducting, however, could do with more thrust and is undercharacterised, further weakening the overall impact of the performance. George Hall