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.
Live opera is a passionate, exciting, multi-media extravaganza: singing, music, acting, movement. A number of those involved in the OperaRox production of Alcina were kind enough to share their thoughts about preparing and performing the work – and to tell me what to look for and how to approach it, so I can enjoy it even more! 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 for allowing me to distract their performers as they came into Hell Week.
This is the first of three posts on Alcina.
Who’s who and what’s what
Alcina is based on an episode in Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, a grand, sprawling epic poem of the early 16th century that influenced writers from Shakespeare and Cervantes to Italo Calvino. You’ll have to suspend belief for the set-up (piece of cake if you’re a fan of Star Wars, Harry Potter, Shakespeare,etc.), but the emotions are very real and the music is gorgeous. Here we go:
Backstory of the opera
Bradamante and the knight Ruggiero were in love, but he has been whisked off by a hippogriff to a remote island. The island is ruled by sibling sorceresses Alcina and Morgana. Morgana is in love with Oronte. Alcina is in love with Ruggiero, who is under a spell that makes him forget about Bradamante and his former life.
Enter Bradamante (disguised as her own brother, Ricciardo), who has come to the island to rescue Ruggiero. With her is Ruggiero’s former tutor, Melisso. Morgana falls in love at first sight with Bradamante / Ricciardo. Bradamante sees that Ruggiero is besotted with Alcina. Young Oberto asks the new arrivals if they’ve seen his father. He’ll have been turned into a wild animal like the rest of Alcina’s ex-lovers, says Bradamante, aside, to Melisso.
Oronte, Morgana’s pissed-off ex, tells Ruggiero that Alcina has fallen for Bradamante / Ricciardo. (He’s lying.) And that means, says Oronte, that soon Alcina will transform you into something animal, mineral or vegetable. Alcina persuades Ruggiero that she still loves him. Bradamante, in desperation, tells Ruggiero that she’s Bradamante. He doesn’t believe her.
Morgana begs Bradamante / Ricciardo to flee the island, to save himself from Alcina’s wrath. Bradamante / Ricciardo says nope, I’m in love with someone, I’m staying. Morgana believes he loves her. Not.
Ex-tutor Melisso gives Ruggiero a magic ring: he sees that the lush island is actually a desert filled with monsters. Ruggiero now sees Bradamante as herself … but thinks that’s too good to be true, must be Alcina in disguise, rejects her. Bradamante is furious. Morgana tells Alcina that she’s seen Ruggiero and Bradamante plotting to leave. Alcina summons evil spirits to wreak her vengeance. The spirits don’t pick up.
Morgana tries to return to Oronte; he rebuffs her, but soon admits he still loves her. Alcina introduces Oberto to a lion, whom he recognizes as his father. You’re evil and it’s going to catch up with you, he tells Alcina. Ruggiero and Bradamante smash the source of Alcina’s power. The palace crumbles to dust. Alcina’s former lovers (including Oberto’s father) regain their human forms. Closing chorus: love has triumphed; all is joy and peace.
What makes your character roll out of bed in the morning?
Characters in the order in which they appear in the libretto.
Bradamante is a very proactive person. She isn’t the type to complain about something and do nothing; she takes action and when she sees a problem, she figures out a solution. Before the opera opens, her boyfriend Ruggiero has been missing at sea for a while, and instead of pining at home, she dresses up as a man (to avoid harassment on her journey) and sets out to find him and bring him home. Even after discovering the mess that Ruggiero has ended up in, she’s upset, but she doesn’t stop trying to break Alcina’s hold over Ruggiero, and save all the people that Alcina has imprisoned on her island. – Melanie Ashkar
Bradamante is absolutely in love with Ruggiero. He brings a softness and a sensitivity into her life. When he goes missing, it is a soul-crushing experience for her, and that is why she takes matters into her own hands. – Alexa Rosenberg, Bradamante cover
Excitement. Sex. The next new thing. Morgana is extremely clear about what – and who – she desires, and will literally throw herself at it – or him – whether her desire is reciprocated or not. She’s impetuous and self-assured, which makes her a lot of fun to play since her character lends itself to making strong choices on stage. – Allegra Durante
Our Alcina loves Ruggiero. She’s had ages of immortality filled with dalliances with countless others, but this man has really captured her heart, and that’s a wonderful new thing that she never wants to relinquish. So to me, more than her powers, immortality and legions of loyal followers, Alcina lives for this fresh feeling of being utterly in love. – Zen Wu
Oberto is having a harder time rolling out of bed these days. He’s lost his dad, and has been searching for him for ages. Maybe the only thing getting him up at all is the hope that he might find him today… – Ginny Weant
Unfortunately, when we meet Ruggiero he is deep in an opiate addiction so the answer to this question [what makes the character roll out of bed in the morning] has to be pills. I believe he has an obsessive personality and I like to think that prior to the opera this was channeled into positive outlets. I imagine him being an obsessive gym-goer, someone who would do anything for his girlfriend, and the kind of guy who would own the nicest espresso machine and wake up to grind his own coffee beans and make a professional quality latte at home. – Chloe Schaaf
What has been your favorite part of preparing your role, and/or the most interesting thing you learned about your character?
I’m really enjoying stepping into the dark side. Connecting “the bad guy” with realistic motives is what makes the character interesting. Alcina isn’t some witch whose purpose in life is to be an evil homewrecker – power is all she’s ever known, and with no rival to counter her for all the time she’s lived, selfishness is simply her status quo. Her moral imperatives are governed sheerly by her own whims, and from beginning to end she isn’t capable of fathoming even the possibility that any of her actions have been objectively reprehensible. That’s fascinating to me. – Zen Wu
I approached the role thinking of Bradamante as being very different from who I am. Of course, as a performer, one should find similarities, or find a way to relate to the character, but I found much more of a parallel than I expected. The incredible Stella Adler, actor and teacher, said that “growth as an actor and growth as a human being are synonymous.” I definitely have experienced that while getting to know Bradamante. Bradamante is a real go-getter. Throughout history, and still in today’s society, women are usually punished for being aggressive. Its very refreshing to see a dominating female character, who goes after what she wants, gets it, and doesn’t end up being vilified. – Alexa Rosenberg, cover
I actually really enjoy recitatives, which are the more conversational back-and-forth exchanges that happen during the show. Everyone loves their big moments, their arias, when they get the chance to really sing and show their stuff, but the story happens in these less vocally impressive sections between the arias. One of the things I love most about opera is interacting with the other singers/characters, which in this opera, happens in the recitative. The recitatives also reveal a lot about the characters and their relationships to one another. For example, my character, Bradamante, is traveling with Melisso, her boyfriend’s mentor. I had just assumed that Bradamante and Melisso were fairly close, and had a sympathy between them. However, in one of the short recitative passages, they have a little bit of an argument that to me, humanizes Bradamante. Melisso is angry at her for jeopardizing their mission (they are quasi-undercover), and she tells him, “when others are in trouble, it’s easy to give advice” – how true and honest that statement is! Through this one short, throwaway line, we begin see the cracks in Bradamante’s resolve, and we discover something very natural and real in her relationship with her traveling companion; sure, he is a confidante and mentor, but he’s also inflexible and unsympathetic, and in her current state of duress, she, very understandably, lashes out. – Melanie Ashkar
For me it’s little things that happen in rehearsal, always to do with the other characters. Someone will approach you or speak to you in a way that surprises you, and you have an instinctive reaction that you didn’t know your character would have until it happened. – Chloe Schaaf
I love the process of putting everything together on it’s feet. I learn more about my character and where he fits in the world we’ve created when my character is able to really explore the relationships around him and feeds off of the energy from the other singers. – Ginny Weant
I’m very grateful to our director, Maayan, for clearly communicating her vision for the show and how Morgana fits into it, since that gave me a strong starting point for my character work. My favorite part of preparing any character is the moment when I find something that humanizes her [the character]: it can be a line in the libretto, a musical gesture, a prop, or a stage direction, but there’s always that “eureka” moment when she goes from words on a page to a “real” person. I’m sympathetic to Morgana although some might say she isn’t an easy person to like – I think as an actor you have to have a sympathy for your character to be able to play them with honesty. I try to make Morgana’s emotional arc credible, and play her with enough humanity that the audience ends up being sympathetic to her as well. – Allegra Durante, cover
- Second post: singers talk about their most fun and most challenging arias and scenes. Third: the producer and the stage director talk about their vision; and everyone tells us what they’d like us to know about this production.
- 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 (covers) is Sunday February 12, 2017, at 7 p.m. For details and tickets, see here.