ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Alcina; Tamerlano
PERFORMER: Sandrine Piau, Maite Beaumont, Angelique Noldus, Sabina Puértolas, Chloé Briot, Daniel Behle, Giovanni Furlanetto, Edouard Higuet, Choeur de Chambre de l’Imep/Benoit Giaux; Christophe Dumaux, Jeremy Ovenden, Sophie Karthäuser, Delphine Galou, Ann Hallenberg, Nathan Berg, Caroline D’Haese; Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset; dir. Pierre Audi (Brussels, 2015)
CATALOGUE NO: ALPHA 715
The two Handel opera productions brought together here originated at Sweden’s Drottningholm Palace Theatre in 2000 and 2003 respectively, before moving on to Amsterdam and finally Brussels, where they were filmed in February 2015. They’re both the work of director Pierre Audi in collaboration with the Anglo-Irish designer (and more recently himself an opera director) Patrick Kinmonth.
The deal at Drottningholm, of course, is that the sets are provided for you in terms of what are nowadays exact copies of the original 18th-century sets that slumbered, Sleeping-Beauty-like, until the Swedish court theatre was rediscovered in the 1920s. In fact, Audi doesn’t do anything very show-offy with them. He uses only a couple, for instance, in Tamerlano, and merely turns them around to show their wooden frames at the moment in Alcina when the sorceress’s magical palace is revealed for the dust and ashes it actually is; Kinmonth maintains an equivalent period look with his elegant costumes. The result is highly traditional in visual approach, with Audi’s concern for text uppermost, keeping everything clear and straightforward.
Given that Audi is able to draw focused acting performances from all those taking part, the results prove dramatically rewarding. The Alcina cast is led by Sandrine Piau’s involving enchantress, who keeps Maite Beaumont’s outstanding Ruggiero in thrall until he is eventually released by Angélique Noldus’s intrepid Bradamante. Sabina Puértolas is the flirty Morgana.
Jeremy Ovenden takes the lead in Tamerlano, whose central character is not the tyrant of the title role, beautifully sung as he is by Christophe Dumaux, but his proud Ottoman victim, Bajazet – grandly if roughly presented here. Sophie Karthäuser is spirited as the deposed Sultan’s daughter Asteria, with Delphine Galou lyrical and convincingly male as Andronico, and Ann Hallenberg empowered as Tamerlano’s nominal but unwanted fiancée, Irene. Christophe Rousset draws vigorous playing from Les Talens Lyriques, whose tonal richness matches their virtuosity.