Boys who are girls who love girls that are boys, or, Handel's AlcinaReview
On Wednesday, March 16th I filed into my amazing seat (yet another one - thanks, Royal Conservatory) in Koerner Hall to take in the students and guests of the Glenn Gould School, performing Handel’s magical, mystery tour de force, Alcina.
If any of you were worried about the state of opera here in Canada, last night’s performance would put you at your ease - and then some.
Taking the podium in what they billed as his first opera, Tafelmusik superstar conductor Ivars Taurins led the students of the GGS orchestral program from the pit. Teaming this guy with Leon Major at the helm of the staging, did exactly what you’d expect - create magic.
The stage was filled with some amazing talent to watch. All the singers did a remarkable job keeping up with Taurins’s spritely, yet well-informed tempi, while there were some hallmarks of the “student production” it’s definitely one of the better ones I’ve seen - not just at GGS, but overall.
The show opened and ended in very unorthodox manners. Performers wandering onstage and relating out of character to each other during the overture, Ivars asking questions of stage management prior to the downbeat. It’s a concept/technique I haven’t seen used in a while but reminded me of a 90’s production of “Tonight We Improvise” that I saw at Dalhousie University as a young teen - a production I credit with helping cement my obsession with live theatre. Mr. Major, thank you for bringing back that memory to me.
The magic happens quickly and without warning. The overture is used to show us a pantomime telling the backstory of how Ruggiero came to be stranded on Alcina’s island.
For those who don’t know the story, Ruggiero and Bradamante are betrothed. Ruggiero crashes on Alcina’s island realm and is ensnared in her sensuous magic. Bradamante disguises herself as her brother Ricciardo and sets off with Melisso to save her lover. Upon their arrival, Bradamante meets Alcina’s sister, Morgana - a powerful sorceress in her own right - who falls for gallant Ricciardo (not knowing it’s Bradamante). We also see Oberta, who’s searching for her father - who previously fell victim to Alcina in the same way Ruggiero did - as well as Oronte, Morgana’s original lover whom she spurns in favour of Ricciardo/Bradamante. There are struggles and fights, Oronte and Morgana reconcile, but Alcina’s powers are ultimately beaten and destroyed by Ruggiero and his true love for Bradamante.
Now for the singing.
Meghan Jamieson was a revelation as Alcina. Still a very young soprano, she definitely had the chops for this role. She had a warmth to the brightness of her tone that belied her years. Her Act 1 closer, “Ah, mio cor” was breathtaking. And the acting - I’m still swooning. There was power and vulnerability. The portrayal was fiery, and nuanced, and I can’t celebrate Jamieson enough for her willingness to engage her entire physicality in her portrayal.
As the spellbound Ruggiero, mezzo Christina Campsall reminded us why she’s one of our favourites. Her dark rich tone and remarkable range married beautifully in a pants role. Her mastery of the coloratura was a surprise to me and I can’t wait to hear more of this repertoire from her. Her manliness shone through in all her actions and we’re all aware there’s an amazing future ahead of her.
Mezzo Lillian Brooks as Bradamante/Ricciardo sang with a brighter tone and also ‘Handel’ed the coloratura passages with ease. I really liked her legato singing in this show. I found her breeches acting to be one of the strongest I’ve seen on the stage in a while. Her recoiling from Morgana was quite humorous without being vulgar; her relationship with Melisso, sung by the stunning baritone Keith Lam, was layered, and complex and comforting all at the same time. I felt she could be a bit more grounded on stage, but that will come with time.
Soprano Irina Medvedeva in the role of Morgana was delicious. Her portrayal of the character was a lot more seductive and sultry than the usual flippant, flighty and fickle portrayals of her I’m used to seeing. You really felt that she feels every emotion incredibly intensely and that would dictate her actions. Her handling of the extremely high and quick coloratura was remarkable. Easy and free, there were some tuning issues, but I just chalked that up to opening night jitters. This young lady is another one to watch.
As Oronte, Asitha Tennekoon sang with a full yet light tenor that sailed through the hall and through the melismas with ease. Quickly becoming one of my favourite tenors in the city, Tennekoon’s portrayal of Oronte (who goes through some serious changes in emotion very quickly) was tempered and intelligent and creative.
Unfortunately the chorus was way underused for my taste. In this concept, the whole cast is on stage and visible for the whole show, with the chorus being used for very little more than running crew. They sang their one chorus number beautifully - even if it was light in the lower range of the score - but I felt this was a good example of some great singers and talent, just being used to move props.
Lighting wunderkind Jason Hand’s work in Koerner once again proves why he’s at the top his game and Ming Wong’s costume design showed us a place out of time - classic influences and nods to specific epochs but coupled with things like sneakers and skinny jeans - #ClassicMing.
Shout out to the celli - that was some nice obbligato work.
Alcina plays at Koerner Hall for one more show, on March 18th at 7:30pm. For ticket information, click here.