The title of my post refers to the fact that this was my first Alcina, first Handel opera, first Barbican, and first Kasarova and friends. I’m really aware that there are experts out there in all these fields who are both witty and erudite so, dear reader, be gentle with me as I give my virginal perspective.
GETTING THERE Having booked my ticket immediately on hearing that Kasarova was singing after all, my arrangements were both last minute and expensive. Still – living in the uk and unlikely to be able to visit Europe any time soon, this was my only opportunity to experience this phenomenal musical treat. I read the reviews, treasured the images so ….now it was my turn.
The snow caused me great stress but Saturday dawned with a seagull grey sky and a bleary sun and no snow on my rail journey, So far, so good. Hotel – bearable and 10 minutes walk from the Barbican.
AT THE BARBICAN
I looked a tad strange as I walked into this amazing space as I was wearing, in addition to my beautifully pressed shirt, three hats… musician, recent Handel opera convert and recent VK fan.
MUSICIAN Some have commented on the dryness of the Barbican acoustic but I found it pleasing from where I was sitting in the middle of the circle. I loved the style of the tuning and preparation by Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble and Minkowski and WHAT A BAND ! definitely putting the rock into Baroque. The percussive attack was spectacular, the pianissimo soooo sensitive and the silences breathtaking – literally - I for one stopped breathing in anticipation of the chord to follow. I loved the delayed resolutions at the cadences, the finely judged ornamentation and the sheer beauty of the sound. If I am to be picky I would have liked to hear more harpsichord and theorbo in the continuo, the ‘cello being very prominent, but that may have been where I was sitting. Highlights were many but in particular the three arias which featured solo violin, solo ‘cello and a pair of recorders – just gorgeous. This band moves and breathes as one, a living entity, the best I have ever heard – I will be buying CDs!
RECENT HANDEL OPERA CONVERT
I’ve done a bit of Handel in my time: the usual popular stuff and a course in baroque ornamentation, but somehow the words Handel and Operas did not figure together in my consciousness until very recently. I followed leads from various blogs ( you know who you are girls! ), caught the Youtube bug and bingo – another convert. I had the delightful experience of listening for the first time to “G F Handel Arias and Duets the anniversary edition” on Singapore Airline’s excellent entertainment system whilst flying at 60,000 feet over Christmas Island! I have a long way to go mending the holes in my Handel repertoire but the task will be a joy …. thank you to those who have nudged me towards the Awareness Path.
RECENT VK FAN
I’m a latecomer to this party too. Not that I enjoy parties, being rather solitary by nature but it is ssoooo good to share one’s “enthusiasms” with others on this webby thingy! I’ll be honest – experiencing VK live was my main impetus in arranging this trip. I started a small collection of downloads and CDs but could not miss this rare opportunity to experience the magic. I was initially disappointed on hearing that Harteros was not appearing. I couldn’t think how it would work with one half of an amazing team not there and I was sceptical when I saw the stage persona of Inga Kalna. I found her appearance on the matronly side – maybe it was the frock. But I soon relaxed into the changed circumstance with the rest of the audience and enjoyed some fine vocal quality and delivery. Perhaps a little “contained” for my liking but undoubtedly doing full justice to Handel’s glorious music. Romino Basso as Bradamante let off a few fireworks but I couldn’t forgive her for using a score for most of the evening. How can you make sweet music with Ruggiero ( especially this one!) whilst referring to a book? Veronica Gangemi as Morgana was a delight, assured in voice and in character and with great appeal to the audience. Benjamin Bruns as Oronte and Luca Tittoto as Melisso proved a reliable foil for the ladies but it was Shintaro Nakajima as Oberto who stole the masculine show. The audience loved him for his natural presence and astonishing vocal clarity and dexterity. And boy can he communicate! Look at the AAhh factor on the faces of the orchestra here …..
I did not know what to expect from the staging. Apart from the wonderful Barbican stage area there were couches at either side. Each principal, rather than sing to the other characters, sang arias to the audience which was nicely engaging for us. Singers then drifted off to the side, either to the exits if they weren’t required for a bit, or to one of these couches. The subtitles board overhead was mesmerizing and very helpful to the Newbie but I have to admit to being completely unaware of the text while Kasarova was anywhere in view! The dress code for the singers was black with Alcina in a formal concert gown with little netty bits (sorry, fashion is not my forte), Oberto in his choir uniform and the other ladies in contemporary evening wear. Ruggiero was wearing the black jumpsuit as in Paris?? and other venues with the big, black necklace and doesn’t she wear it with style, grace, panache……. feel free to put in your own superlatives. I’m afraid that the photos I took of the bows were full of camera shake ( I wonder why that was ? ) but here they are anyway.
I have to confess that I took my opera glasses ( ok – the birdwatching mini binoculars ) to catch each nuance of movement and expression and I became further convinced of the reason I started this blog – The Eyes and how they are used are one of the things that make Vesselina Kasarova unique as a performer and consummate communicator. She conveys in music, look and gesture her take on what she is singing. I noticed hand gestures emphasising nifty little off beats, a physicality of stance and movement which make Ruggiero utterly believable even without costume and on Saturday we in the audience got the full benefit.
Did I love “Alcina” ? yes, yes, YES
Would I go again? You bet!
Have I said enough for now? — certainly have.
Thank you for reading to the end of my first effort. Please free to comment/disagree/send much better photos !
When I have recovered from all this mental effort I shall get round to trying to put into words my emotional response to “Alcina”