Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Alcina: Opera North’s production low on magic but high on sustainability

5 February 2022

Tim Albery takes a musically and theatrically fascinating sojourn to a carelessly opulent private isle


Nick Pritchard, Fflur Wyn & Mari Askvik (Photo: James Glossop)

Oh, Tim Albery, Oh Opera North – you iconoclastic devils! A production dependent almost entirely on a vibrant young cast and an orchestra under the direction of an inspiring Handelian, with nothing at all on loan from Leeds Armouries or suppliers of authentic looking fake nose candy!

In terms of Handel opera, if 2021 was the year of Amadigi, 2022 is surely the year of Alcina, with no fewer than three major houses featuring Handel’s ‘magick’ opera in their schedules. Glyndebourne offers it in the Summer Festival, but as so often happens, Opera North is first off the block with this understated, eminently tour friendly and revivable production.

We are on a carelessly opulent private isle, possibly somewhere like Mustique, with a variously looming and receding forest provided by a background video screen. Languid figures lounge or swan about in pre-loved but hardly frayed vintage 60s glam-wear, variously steering their way around the teal coloured accent chairs or tossing them about as required. Tim Albery has used Ian William Galloway’s video designs to stunning effect, and the simplicity of the overall concept allows the music to come to the fore.

“A production dependent almost entirely on a vibrant young cast and an orchestra under the direction of an inspiring Handelian…”

The Orchestra of Opera North has never sounded better; under the direction of Laurence Cummings, the playing sounded as though it were the result of years of specialized training in Handel style, supporting the singers with sympathy whilst dazzling with virtuosic phrasing. This inspired musician just keeps adding to the productions which he elevates to another level, and so it was here.


Máire Flavin (Photo: James Glossop)

The conflicted villain / heroine was strikingly portrayed by Máire Flavin, whom Leeds audiences will remember as the graceful Countess in Le nozze di Figaro. Her statuesque presence and commanding voice made her an ideal Alcina, and she disintegrated from powerful sorceress to hapless victim most convincingly. Her beloved Ruggiero was sweetly sung by the American counter-tenor Patrick Terry, perhaps a little underpowered at moments but delivering a finely phrased ‘Verdi Prati.’

Mari Askvik, making her Opera North debut, was a superb Bradamante, her lovely, fluent mezzo-soprano caressing the lines, and her confident stage presence drawing the eye throughout. Fflur Wyn, another company favourite, was a feisty and sympathetic Morgana, making the most of her showpiece aria, ‘Tornami a vagheggiar.’ Claire Pascoe, in a role usually taken by a bass-baritone, made a striking impression as Melissa, and Nick Pritchard was an emphatic presence in the often thankless part of Oronte.

Hannah Clark’s set and costume designs and Matthew Richardson’s lighting both finely complemented the pared-down vision of the production. It’s Opera North’s first full-stage sustainable show, reflecting the company’s desire to be a leader in this field as in many others. Its environmentally sound credentials make it ideal for touring – after Leeds it travels to Salford, Newcastle and Nottingham – and in keeping with the company’s inclusive policies, it will be livestreamed on 17 February, in collaboration with the European streaming platform OperaVision. The livestream will be available on demand for six months, allowing those unable to see it ‘live’ to experience this low-key but musically and theatrically fascinating production.

• More details of this production can be found here.


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Alcina: Opera North’s production low on magic but high on sustainability