Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Alcina @ Barbican Hall, London

4 December 2010

Though Inga Kalna was a last minute replacement for Anja Harteros in this concert performance of Handel’s Alcina, one would never have guessed it. She has performed the title role before, but the sheer extent to which she embraced the character made this feel like something close to a definitive performance.

Kalna’s strength lay in her ability to make us feel for Alcina in all her glory and frailty. Her first aria, in which we can see her power over the island, was so beautifully executed that it was impossible not to like this character, despite knowing how she has cast a spell on all her former lovers. Her rich vibrato was offset by a lightness of touch, and her bearing oozed elegance. As she fluttered her eyelids, tilted her head or simply hinted at a sweet sigh, it was the restraint in her composure that made us warm to this unique form of domination.

As she lost control, however, we also felt for her because we realised that this acutely vulnerable lady was nothing without her magical powers. This may be an example of how a singers voice can help us warm to a character, and the way in which Kalna followed through phrases with her rich, resonant tones, or conversely delivered lines in the quietest, most restrained manner imaginable, made this performance feel very special.

No less impressive was Vesselina Kasarova as Ruggiero. She made the knight appear truly possessed, yet still behaved naturally enough to show that the character himself did not know he had been bewitched to love Alcina. Her performance felt so effortless that it became easy to forget just how flexible this mezzo-soprano needed to be. Her thick, grainy voice proved equally adept at executing trills and runs with ease, and at delivering purely in the upper register when this was required.

As Morgana, Veronica Cangemi was full of passionate tremolo, while Romano Basso was an effective and affecting Bradamante. Alcina is not an opera that allows the men to shine, but Benjamin Bruns’ smooth Oronte and Luca Tittoto’s rich Melisso certainly left us wishing that the parts were bigger. Another young man, the boy soprano Shintaro Nakajima, put in not just a commendable, but truly incredible, performance. With his sweet voice demonstrating confidence and relative maturity, his highly polished delivery showed considerable sympathy for both his character and the words he was singing.

Marc Minkowski extracted a wondrous sound from Les Musiciens du Louvre (Grenoble), showing exquisite attention to tempi, phrasing, balance and volume throughout. It revealed a particular aptitude for altering its delivery between supporting the arias and taking centre-stage in its own right, and the lead violinist (Thibault Noally) and recorder players (Gilberto Caserio and Florian Cousin) sometimes came to the front to play in order to aid the drama.

Anyone who has seen the English National Opera’s productions of Partenope and Radamisto will know just how good staged Handel opera can be. Conversely, those who have witnessed the Royal Opera House’s Acis and Galatea and Tamerlano will realise that it can also be a pretty dull affair. This Alcina proved that when the singing and playing are spot on, and the characters captured so astutely, four hours can whizz by without any staging at all. Minkowski dedicated the performance to that all time great Alcina, Dame Joan Sutherland, and it felt a highly fitting tribute.

Further details of Barbican concerts can be found at barbican.org.uk

buy Marc Minkowski MP3s or CDs
Spotify Marc Minkowski on Spotify

More on Marc Minkowski
Alcina @ Barbican Hall, London
Agrippina / Zurich Opera @ Royal Festival Hall, London