Handel’s Alcina will be performed by OperaRox on Friday, February 3, 2017 at 8 p.m., and on Sunday, February 5, 2017 at 2 p.m.; Studio Artists Performance is Sunday, February 12, 2017, at 7 p.m. For details and tickets, see here.
This is the second in a series of posts. The first gives a summary of the plot and the singers’ takes on what makes their character roll out of bed in the morning. This one covers the arias and scenes that the singers found most fun and most challenging. The third gives comments from the producer and stage director, and suggestions from the singers about what to look for in Baroque opera and Alcina.
What’s your favorite aria or scene? Which one was the most challenging?
Bradamante, “E gelosia”
Oronte, angered that his beloved Morgana has fallen madly in love with Bradamante (disguised as Ricciardo), challenges Bradamante to a duel. Bradamante tries to reconcile Oronte and Morgana. “It’s only because you love each other so much that you’re this angry. I’m feeling joy, anger, and hopeless love, too.”
Bradamante’s act 1 aria “E gelosia’ is probably one of my favorite scenes to perform. There is a lot happening in this scene. She is currently disguised as a man to protect herself, but of course Morgana has to fall in love with her at first sight (it isn’t opera if that doesn’t happen.) Bradamante is caught in the middle of an unstable relationship quarrel. Morgana’s boyfriend, Oronte, comes wielding a knife in order to get his revenge on Bradamante for accidentally seducing his girlfriend. Needless to say, it is a high-stakes situation for Bradamante. What makes the scene fun to play with is the comedic angle that our director gave us. I’m always drawn more to comedy, by default. It is an intense, busy and hysterical scene, and far different from anything I’ve ever done. – Alexa Rosenberg, cover
Morgana, “Tornami a vagheggiar”
Morgana to Bradamante / Ricciardo: Run! Alcina’s going to turn you into a beast to appease Ruggiero. Bradamante / Ricciardo: Tell Ruggiero I’m in love with someone else. (She means Ruggiero.) Morgana: Moi? Bradamante / Ricciardo: Yes. Morgana: “Come back soon to court me – I love only you – I’ll never betray you!”
“Tornami a vagheggiar,” which is one of the most well known arias in the opera, has been staged so that it’s a physical tour de force as well as a vocal one. I’m dancing around the stage and invading the personal space of my scene partner while singing text that repeats itself to music that moves rapidly, and that’s a recipe for quickly losing your place if you lose focus. Even so, I love performing the aria because it has a lot of coloratura passages that need to be motivated by the character’s intention, and I keep discovering new ways for the coloratura and the staging to complement each other. – Allegra Durante, cover
Bradamante, “Vorrei vendicarmi”
Ruggiero thinks the sudden appearance of Bradamante, whom he’s been longing for, is just too good to be true: she must be that wicked sorceress Alcina in disguise. Bradamante looses her temper: “I want vengeance on you, you faithless man, but I love you so much that you can kill me, if you want.”
My second aria, “Vorrei vendicarmi,” in which I lash out at Ruggiero, telling him I’m going to avenge myself against him, is really difficult to sing from a technical standpoint. It’s filled with fast, moving notes, and not many opportunities to catch your breath. It’s also highly charged emotionally, which makes it more difficult; I have a tendency to manifest the emotion of the music in my body, so during scenes of great anger or distress, I tense up, which inhibits the vocal mechanism. This is a great scene, but I have to remind myself to stay grounded, and not to get carried away so that I sing clearly and well. – Melanie Ashkar
Another take on “Vorrei vendicarmi”
“Vorrei vendicarmi’ is by far one of the more difficult arias I have sung. It requires a lot of vocal flexibility and agility in a relatively low part of my voice. The aria is about all the anger and pain that Bradamante is feeling, and this is where we start to see a little of her vulnerability. It is absolutely thrilling to do, but definitely challenging. – Alexa Rosenberg, cover
Alcina, “Ah, mio cor!”
Oronte tells Alcina that her beloved Ruggiero is planning to run away. Alcina: “Oh, I am scorned! Ruggiero, you traitor, how can you leave me alone and in tears? But I’m still the queen: you can stay here, or you can die.”
[Re favorite scenes] I have to also give a quick nod to the “mosh” scene that I’m in when I play one of the spirits. Baroque opera is some of my favorite repertoire to hear as well as to sing, and I pretty much rock out whenever I listen to it. Getting to headbang during a live performance of this music, as part of this music, is pretty fantastic. – Allegra Durante, Morgana cover
Ruggiero, “Verdi prati”
Bradamante and Ruggiero, finally on the same page at the same time, plan to flee the island. Ruggiero reminisces and predicts the future: “This charming place is full of meadows, streams, flowers … and soon it will return to its normal (horrible) state.
I find the aria Verdi Prati challenging both vocally and dramatically. It’s so simple, so exposed. There is not a single musical effect or complicated bit of staging to focus on- it’s so simple that it becomes difficult. – Chloe Schaaf
Alcina, “Ombre pallide”
Alcina, alone with her magicks, laments: “Ruggiero, that traitor, loves Bradamante. Yet I still love him. Come spirits, give me vengeance. … Why don’t you answer me?”
There’s a long accompanied recitative in “Ombre pallide” that depicts Alcina’s every thought as she reckons with the most devastating emotional realization of her life. It’s fun for me as a singer to be able to indulge in such a wide range of extreme states. From dismayed to shocked, to heartbroken, to vengeful, to utterly vanquished, this is a woman who hasn’t just lost the man she loves, but has also lost her way of life, status and sense of self worth.
“Ombre pallide” is challenging for the same reasons I love it. There is a lot of rage and angst to convey in this aria, and the most difficult thing for me personally is staying engaged with the text and staging, successfully embodying anger and communicating intention, without letting rigid gestures and visceral emotions overpower the vocal mechanism. It’s still beautiful music, and it needs to be performed as such, even while my character is railing against the world and all who have wronged her. – Zen Wu
Morgana, “Credete al mio dolore”
Morgana wants Oronte back. That infatuation with Bradamante / Ricciardo didn’t mean a thing! Oronte: I love someone else. Morgana: “Believe that I’m suffering – I long for you – if you see me weeping, and deny that I love you, that’s too cruel to bear.”
My second aria, “Credete al mio dolore,” is my favorite because it’s the only time Morgana’s confidence is really shaken. She experiences the gut-wrenching pain of losing something important and believing she won’t be able to get it back, and I think that heartache is what humanizes her. The scene is challenging because she transitions quickly from self-assurance to insecurity, but I enjoy it because of how much focus and connection to the character is needed to play that emotional arc genuinely. Not to mention that the music in that scene is ridiculously beautiful. – Allegra Durante, cover
Bradamante, “All’alma fedel”
Ruggiero is off to fight. Bradamante swears to ex-tutor Melisso that she won’t leave the island until all the spells are broken. But once he leaves, she admits her relief: “Fate and the heavens are kind to those who are faithful in love. I can see joy coming, in the midst of these trials.”
I really like my third aria, “All’alma fedel,” which I sing in the last act of the opera. Bradamante is strong-willed, confident and competent, and her grit has really been put to the test throughout the opera. Finally, [spoiler alert], things start to work out for her, and in this aria, she reveals her more vulnerable, feminine side. She finally has a moment’s respite to reflect and let her guard down. It’s a lovely moment, and very different from anything else she sings. – Melanie Ashkar
Oberto, “Barbara! Io ben lo so”
Alcina, already in a foul mood after Ruggiero’s defection, thinks young Oberto is mocking her when he says he’ll see his father soon. Take this spear and kill that lion she says. No, replies Oberto, he looks a lot like my father, I won’t. He grabs the spear, threatening Alcina with it, and tells her what he thinks of her: “You’re a barbarian! I know this is my father, whom you changed into a lion. But soon I’ll see you wandering lost and confused in the forest.”
I love BARBARA!!!! (Barbarous Woman!), where Oberto finally recognizes his father disguised as a Lion. When Alcina tries to persuade Oberto to kill his father, Oberto finally gets this epic aria to stand up to the woman who has been hiding his father from him this entire time in this god forsaken place! It’s absolutely a thrill to sing!
Every aria and scene comes with it’s own set of challenges. But I think what I challenge myself to do most is to make sure that every moment: every musical phrase, every recit, and every action has a clear intention. The audience has to believe that your character is experiencing the events that occur in this world for the first time (no matter how many times you’ve practiced that darn melisma!). And then something magical happens when you really let go and focus in the moment: you sing BETTER! – Ginny Weant
Trio (Bradamante, Ruggiero, Alcina)
Alcina begs for mercy from Ruggiero and then Bradamante. When they refuse, she says Ruggiero will die and Bradamante will be a weeping widow. They exchange promises of mercilessness. (In the scene after this Ruggiero smashes the source of Alcina’s power, so this is her last big vocal hurrah.)
I love the trio between Ruggiero, Bradamante, and Alcina. It is the only instance of ensemble singing in the opera- otherwise the whole thing is solos or choruses. As operatic style develops over time, ensembles become much more prevalent. I think the fact that Baroque operas are so light on ensembles is a big factor in people perceiving them as sometimes being stilted or slow moving. It’s much jucier both musically and dramatically when several characters sing together- there can be conflict, tension, and hopefully a satisfying resolution. – Chloe Schaaf, Ruggiero
- The previous post on Alcina (plot and characters) is here. The third includes big-picture comments by the producer and director, and suggestions from the performers on what to bear in mind when you’re listening to Baroque opera and Alcina.
- Thanks to Melanie Ashkar, Allegra Durante, Alexa Rosenberg, Chloe Schaaf, Ginny Weant, and Zen Wu. Special thanks to Producer Kim Feltkamp and Director Maayan Voss de Bettancourt.
- Handel’s Alcina will be performed by OperaRox on Friday, February 3, 2017 at 8 p.m., and on Sunday, February 5, 2017 at 2 p.m.; Studio Artists Performance is Sunday, February 12, 2017, at 7 p.m. For details and tickets, see here.