OPERA NEWS - Ariodante
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HANDEL: Ariodante

spacer Murray, Garrett, Rodgers; Robson, Nilon, Howell; English National Opera, Bolton. Production: Alden. Arthaus Musik 100065, 178 mins., subtitled

Recordings Ariodante DVD Cover 815

In his production of Ariodante for English National Opera, captured here in its 1996 revival,David Alden takes a strenuously physical, overtly sexual approach that puts the characters’ baser desires at the forefront. Although she loves the titular knight, the delicate princess Ginevra revels in male attention as she is carried aloft by a flock of fawning footmen, while her lady-in-waiting, Dalinda, oozes jealousy. The ambitious, narcissistic Polinesso claims ownership of his possessions by licking them, whether they are inanimate (his walking stick) or not (Dalinda). In addition to writhing on the floor and fondling themselves and others, the singers are encouraged to mine for subtext whether or not it’s justified. In the introduction to his aria “Set the loud trumpet sounding,” the King of Scotland listens to the brass as if receiving some coded message that gives him pause. Because his apprehension has no obvious meaning for the audience, this only confuses the storytelling. The producers of the DVD clearly recognized this danger and inserted helpful placards along the way, such as “Polinesso, ecstatic with the success of his devious plan, has brutally seduced Dalinda.” This one in particular is wildly unnecessary, since Polinesso immediately assaults her again as he sings about shunning virtue forevermore.

Despite the demands Alden places on his singers, they are all game players. Most enjoyable is Lesley Garrett, who gives depth and real pathos to Dalinda and projects a consistently beautiful soprano. Christopher Robson offers an unfussy countertenor and plenty of scenery (and people) chewing as Polinesso, while tenor Paul Nilon is a clear-toned, valiant Lurcanio, loyal admirer of the treacherous Dalinda. As the beleaguered Ginevra, Joan Rodgers sounds lovely, but she suffers most at the hands of the awkward English translation, which has her trying to negotiate difficult words in the stratosphere. Bass Gwynne Howell is a dour, imposing King. The least compelling performance, unfortunately, is Ann Murray’s in the title role. She strides about the stage as masculinely as she can, but somehow her presence remains resolutely feminine, even maternal. Her voice can be unsteady, and as she navigates her long flights of fioritura, she stares at her hands, mesmerized, as if her vocal accuracy hinged on their movement. 

The postmodern design, spare and suggestive, keeps the focus on the singers, and there are some neat touches, such as the nighttime conversation between Ariodante and Polinesso, which takes place on the palace roof. There are some violent moments; in addition to the rape of Dalinda, a dancer impersonating Ginevra is stripped naked and thrown into a tank of water. The DVD provides subtitles in German, French and Dutch, but none in English. Fortunately, the singers all have excellent diction, especially in the recitatives. spacer

JOANNE SYDNEY LESSNER

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