"For anyone who's interested (which should be all males in their right mind) Alcina's aria of exposure, 'ma clothé bosom pop outå', begins at the one hour, twenty-five minute and thirty-seven second mark (or to make things easy, chapter thirty nine). After that there's a five minute wait before the first bosom pops. Interested parties might want to skip ahead. I waited of course (because nobody told me when it would happen).
The aria is actually called 'Ah, mio cor! Schernito sei!' (Ah! My heart! You are scorned!) and it's a great one. Anyone watching it just to see Catherine Naglestad partially nude should end up mesmerized enough by the music and her performance of it to (almost) forget that her [...] end up exposed. The piece is a dramatic tour de force for her and for Catriona Smith who, though she doesn't sing, serves as a counterpoint for the action. Naglestad captures the character's fury and her emotional vulnerability beautifully. Her physical exposure serves that. Ultimately it helps in showing the imperious, spoiled and wanton Alcina as a multi-faceted human being more deserving of sympathy than scorn.
The cast is brilliant. Michael Ebbecke has the role that's both the least and most pivotal to the opera. His voice is the harshest of the cast members but he uses it to convey an air of authority. Claudia Mahnke brings the uncertainty and passion of youth to the role of Oberto. Her voice is rich and, very powerful. Rolfe Romei has a strong tenor voice that's never harsh. He brings complexity, insecurity and sexual ambiguity to a role that (under many directors) could have been a throwaway. Catriona Smith and Helene Schneiderman are standouts. Catriona Smith is wonderfully vulnerable as Alcina's sister, Morgana. Her pain from the abuse by her lover and her sister is tangible. The love she has for both of them is never less than real as well. She sings in bell like tones that suggest despair or passion with equal aplomb. Helene Schneiderman has that wonderful middle range unique to mezzo sopranos that's as much a caress as delivery of song. And she's an extremely expressive singer. Her use of body language is exceptional as well. It's largely due to her work that this production is so emotionally and erotically charged.
But the production belongs to Alice Coote, Catherine Naglestad, (conductor) Alan Hacker and the Staatorchester Stuttgart. Alice Coote has a rich mezzo soprano voice that's positively silken. Her turn as Ruggerio, the bewitched lover who finally scorns the temptress Alcina, is entirely convincing. And she sings it so well ...hers is a voice that every listener will want to hear more of. Catherine Naglestad is mesmerizing as the bewitching Alcina. She is at turns powerful and heartrendingly vulnerable. Her sensuality borders on feral. And her singing is something to marvel at. Nothing defies her range. The ways she has of shading tones are rich and varied and her notes soar over the stage. Alan Hacker does a beautiful job with both the orchestra and the singers. His interpretation is elegant and refined but never lacking in drive. The score, as he presents it, supports the singers and the eroticism implied in the production. The highest compliment I can give to it is that it becomes more of a joy to listen to as it becomes more familiar.
The only problem with the staging lies with the backdrop. The set is laid out well but the wallpaper on it is too busy. It's not a problem when the camera is close to the action. But when the stage is shown in full view it's distracting. There are a couple of technical shortcomings as well. There are no scene selections in the main menu. A few of the subtitles have errors. The divisions between acts aren't marked during the performance. There's only one audio track (PCM Stereo) and there's a moment where most of it seems weighted toward only one channel. It doesn't last long but it is noticeable. And it's distracting. There are a pair of bad edits near the end too. The first appears to have been done to shorten what would have been a pause in the action. The second might have been to bring the lights down on camera before they actually went off on the stage. Whatever the case they make the finale of what was a very good production quite awkward.
But none of these points are worth missing this production over. The staging by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito is (despite the two-for-one wallpaper) imaginative, effective and engaging. The most important characters are fully realized. The singing and acting is great. The PCM audio track is (with the exception of that single weak moment) vibrant and bright. Alice Coote, Catherine Naglestad and the orchestra under Alan Hacker, are magnificent. And of course, the music is glorious! This performance gets a five star rating and even the busy-as-an-ant colony wallpaper doesn't affect that. The loss of one star is due entirely to the technical shortcomings.
Baroque opera with a twist of erotica: it can't be beat."
Classic Handel in a modern Euro production
MDFinMIA | N. Miami, FL USA | 05/07/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"First off - had none of the problems that Scott encountered with the image - my player adjusted fine to a 16:9 image well presented. On musical grounds, this is a more-than-competent reading of Handel's classic opera, with some fine singing throughout. Naglestad is a lovely Alcina, and other principles are strong (notable standout is Mahnke's Oberto). Conductor Hacker coaxes a good reading out of the Stuttgart forces. The production is very modern - no forests and trees here, but a decaying palace with a great "Alice in Wonderland" mirror framing the center. Yes, there's some gratuitous sex and others may complain this isn't Handel's Alcina, but it held my interest throughout. A very good production of a great work."
Gripping Musical Drama
PeterAnson | Marbach am Neckar | 05/10/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I have to admit, I don't like opera too much, but since I saw this performance live, I was curious to compare it to the DVD. Live one listened to the music more, and enjoyed the singing, which to my lay ears was lovely. But the DVD brings out the great acting and details, a very intricate and well told story. These are no mere singers that 'stand and sing'. So as an alternative to grand opera with the clicheed personification and empty gesture I would say - here is a finely told story of an aging woman, her lusts, loves and the intrigues of the court around her. That ultimately the DVD is more watchable that the performance means for me the director's failure to create viable theater, and he should stick to film. The details of this are exquisite and the stripping scenes (which caused so much controversy) are for me entirely believable and enhance the personification. Again, this was not my impression in the live performance, but that is not the subject of review here. Ultimately, watching Alice Coote and Helene Schneiderman is worth everything."
Intriguing great Opera
Mr. Geoffrey Lehmann | 12/17/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I like traditional Opera, but this is not only diffeent it's great.
The singers act like real actors and actresses, not as heavy bodies slowly moving on the stage. The way the story is rendered in a single, simple room is really amazing.
After few minutes, you can feel like being part of the Alcina spell. You become part of Alcina's magic island.
I watched the same edition at the San Francisco Opera and I really enjoy watching the DVD over and over.
If you think opera must be only extremely serious and boring, then don't buy this DVD (and ask yourself why the opera was a so popular at that time...)"
Confronting (offensive?) eroticism takes us to the heart of
Mr. Geoffrey Lehmann | 08/30/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I can strongly recommend this ravishing performance (great acting, wonderful cinematography, pretty good singing), which will take you straight to the heart of Handel's marvelous music even if you find the eroticism of the production offensive.
Government subsidies for an opera performance are about 120 euros per seat in Germany. These subsidies have encouraged some in-your-face and silly productions, where the stage directors treat the audience and composer with contempt. What is the artistic point in having singers sitting on a row of toilets in a Rossini opera? This radical 1999 Stuttgart performance of Alcina is an exception to the observation that government subsidies frequently corrupt the arts. (There are so many exceptions, that this "observation" does not deserve to be called a rule.)
I bought this Alcina because it was inexpensive and the only DVD of the opera, but with some misgivings because of the contradictory and confusing reviews on this site. Which of the reviewers are right?
There may be a hidden message in the conflicting reviews. A frequent theme is along the lines of "marvelous music, but I hated all the on-screen porn". What I think these reviewers may be misunderstanding is that the on-screen porn is accentuating their response to the music. They may be misinterpreting their own reactions.
Another of the complaints made is that the performance is not faithful to the anonymously authored libretto that Handel used. Having seen a traditional performance of this opera, I can't get terribly excited about lack of fidelity to the libretto, which has an unusually complicated and silly plot even by the standards of early 18th century operas.
The theme of the opera is that Alcina, a sorceress, uses sex to transform men into beasts. However, Alcina has become dangerously infatuated with her latest lover, Ruggerio, a knight. Bradamante, Ruggerio's old lover, arrives dressed up as a man. At the close of the opera Ruggerio returns to Bradamante, now revealed as a woman, and defeats Alcina's stratagems and is able to rescue her trapped ex-lovers. There are also a number of subplots.
What I think the stage and video directors of this opera have done is ignore the overall silliness of the plot and make each moment in the opera as dramatic as possible and emphasise the theme of the opera, which is itself quite serious, being the power of sex - and also give us an approximation of the thrill an audience in 1735 would have experienced with this seductive and over-the-top music.
In 1735 the opera would have been performed in something that approximated contemporary dress at that time, in a small intimate theatre, where the indrawn breaths of the singers could be heard and one or more of the singers was a castrato. An 18th century audience must have been greatly intrigued by the fact that the singer performing Ruggiero, Alcina's great seducer, was in fact a castrato. The DVD recreates for a modern audience some of the sexual tension and ambiguity that would have been experienced by 18th century audiences.
One reviewer, who had seen this production live made the interesting comment that the DVD was better than the theatrical experience. The great cinematography in this DVD has been largely overlooked by the reviewers here. The frames that are shown at the beginning while the overture plays are immediately seductive, an old overturned chair, a bowl of cherries, some discarded military boots - they are as lyrical as the frames from an Ozu film. Catherine Nagelstad as Alcina is luminously and desperately beautiful, like an updated Louise Brooks from the 1929 silent movie "Pandora's Box" - what a performance! And Alice Coote as Ruggiero is boyish and playful and charming - a wonderful foil for Nagelstad's Alcina. Early in the opera Ruggerio makes explicit sexual advances to all the singers on stage, both male and female, while Alcina, her lover watches with apparent approval. I personally felt uncomfortable, and this was not an episode that is in the libretto - but this underlined at the start of the opera what it is all about - the destructive and creative power of sex.
As an experiment I tried listening to this performance without the visuals. It was not the same."