Personal Notes on “Alcina”, Night #2

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[Luminaries, Deities, Divine Figurations of Affection: as detailed in one specific aria of Handel’s “Alcina”, Vienna/Staatsoper 2016]

You’re seriously here to listen to me go on about this “Alcina” (and this Alcina) some more? Seriously?! – Fine. If I’m hopeless, feel free to join me in the standing room.

The second performance put some things into perspective for me (what did I hallucinate about the beginning on Thursday?): some bits did look and sound a bit different, and some simply intensified – those moments I wish I could pin down in sound, not in writing, to keep them close and take them out again when I need to be reminded of the intersection of beauty and truth in trying times.

There are no notes, this time, because I did not take any. I needed both hands to hold onto the railing of my standing room spot. The shift from the balcony to parterre also made a difference in perception, e.g. nearly all the voices carried better (might have been them, might have been my vantage point). I was, for example, more convinced by both MG’s coloring and by RF’s take overall (she remains lightweight, but made a more confident expression at many points), though it still remains an unbalanced evening in casting. (I tried extra hard to like CR and I have to say that all her arias are indeed beautifully sung, but don’t really seem to connect to her body as a stage entity)

Overall, the energy of the evening was both more at ease, and more intense.

The arias that stand out are beginning to form a pattern, like the beginnings of a flowstone cave with first columns rising from their surroundings:
a vulnerable Sì, son quella, with a haunting, upwards take of the repeat “se amar to non mi vuoi“.
Ah, mio cor, once more the cornerstone of the entire evening, this time showing off not control as much as emotional range and powerful intensity.
Mi restano le lagrime, with its rhythmically freer, cascading variations in the reprise.

Ombre pallide also came across more evenly, very present from the start, but it’s those three above that simply stop the clocks.
As a result, the evening is – other than in other productions – more about Alcina’s journey than about the story between Alcina and Ruggiero (and, possibly, Bradamante). Between them, I still found the action somewhat stilted, like an overly choreographed tease that is never resolved (I may still be prejudiced by Harteros/Kasarova, which was simply another kind of energy).

There is the exposition in the very beginning, with Lady Ruggiero swaggering onto stage and half pulling her sword, showing off to Alcina, and Alcina giving her a look that could possibly curl your toes. My overwhelmed brain did not really record that on Thursday.

For Dì, cor mio, there is then so much choreography – to the chairs! To the pillows! Reach out! Lay down! Sit up again! Back to the chairs! – that any tension that could be build between the characters is hindered by the constant motion: there is simply not enough time. In a way, it feels like a set of wedding photos, where the photographer rushes you through all kinds of poses to convey something you do not actually get to feel in that moment.

The first scene applause of the evening rightfully goes to Sì, son quella. And it should happen again later, to credit Papatanasiu’s acting at the point of barely having stepped onto the stage, standing at the very back of it, slowly advancing through the greenery, and just giving Ruggiero in the front (it’s during Mi lusinga) an arc look: something is afoot, and Papatansiu manages to condense it into that one look. In an evening where some of the younger colleagues seem to start acting only when addressed or addressing someone, this kind of immediate presence and reaction, often in an advancing or retreating at a distance (there sure is a lot of walking through that greenery), stood out.

The Staatsoper had finally added a few promo photos for the Sunday show, at least on the house billboards (even though nowhere else, and thadieu moved through the Metro tunnels with increasing frustration at the lack of advertisement). Minkowski also did single Papatanasiu out for extra applause on Sunday, and the crowd already met her first curtain with a roar, including someone tossing her a bouquet of flowers. thadieu and I were surprised when we went to greet her backstage (and, yes, promptly chickened out), that there wasn’t a line of people waiting with their program books ready to be signed, and clapping as soon as she appeared.

Small moments that will stay, added to my collection of memories like carefully removed pieces of jewelry:

Alcina’s heartbreak during Ruggiero’s Mio bel tesoro, where she seems already very aware that something is wrong, yet is unable to fix it, at the same time, just wants to be able to believe those wan promises Ruggiero (and the stage-positioned flutes) are making.

Listening to Mi restano le lagrime and only noticing I’ve stopped breathing when I get a little lightheaded and then consciously need to unwrap my hand from the railing.

And, yes, I keep returning to Ah, mio cor, to that slightly scratchy and glistening string rise, and to Alcina seated on that chair, doing an upwards variation to “puoi lasciarmi?” that cuts like a crystal cry, only to segue directly into a powerful “sola, sola”, with a tight grip on the chair – much more strongly issued than on the first night, enough to shift the air in the audience. The rhythmically free, downward-scaling variation on the final “cooooooor, schernito sei”, the rhetoric take on the “perché, perché?” (the first one cut short, the second dropping eve so lightly at the end) and the fading melisma on the final “oh dei” that had a near Andalusian slant.

Perhaps, if I write it down like this, I will be able to recall these details at a much later point, like the single star dots on the light strings that cover the night sky in that scene. For a companion piece, and more memories in the making, do yourself a favor and check out thadieu’s beautiful (and much more lucid) impressions of this opera night.

And apropos: we’re off to Night #3 tomorrow.

5 thoughts on “Personal Notes on “Alcina”, Night #2”

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