Cecilia Bartoli, Kathryn Lewek, Nathan Berg, Christophe Dumaux, Sandrine Piau, Rolando Villazón, Kristofer Lundin; Les Musiciens du Prince-Monaco/Gianluca Capuano; dir. Christof Loy (Salzburg, 2017)
Unitel DVD: 802408 216 mins
Wandering chairs, lounge suits and paneled rooms; Christof Loy’s directorial signature is written right across this recording of Ariodante from Salzburg. Yet Handel’s 18th century is never entirely jettisoned, with the dancers and sometimes the Scottish Court appearing in period costumes. As so often in Loy’s work, an opera’s historical past and today’s present tense are in constant negotiation, with his strongly drawn characters caught between the two.
This then is no routine Ariodante – how could it be with Cecilia Bartoli taking the lead? – spinning a familiar tale of the hero winning the princess, Ginevra, despite the machinations of his rivals. Sporting a Johnny Depp pirate beard and by the end in a dress with breeches underneath, Bartoli’s Ariodante explores the tyranny of masculine power. So the emotional centre is in Act II, with that pair of extended arias for Ginevra and Ariodante when the men seem to have carried the day. But by the end two heroines, so to speak, are allowed to escape from the men.
Bartoli is Bartoli. Those who find her trilling mannered and freighted with excessive vibrato will wrinkle their noses. But who can doubt her remarkable presence on stage. However, Kathryn Lewek’s Ginevra gives us a masterclass in Handelian legato. The French countertenor Christophe Dumaux is magnificent as the villainous Polinesso – the octave drops in his final aria are quite astonishing.
This is luxury casting. with Sandrine Piau, Nathan Berg and Rolando Villazón also in the cast. Gianluca Capuano coaxes the best out of the singers and his Monégasque musicians.