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Subject: Zurich: Alcina
From: Giovanni Christen <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Giovanni Christen <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 6 Mar 1997 13:21:22 +0100
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I attended the last performance of the Zurich ALCINA revival on March 4.
Just a few words about performers - and a general consideration about
baroque times.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt (cond)
He manages to make interesting every bit of the music, thanks to
contrasting dynamics and sound colours.

Eva Mei (Alcina)
Some people (like me) are disturbed by an edgy sound in the top register.
But she is extremely expressive, and when she sings any pathetical music
in a range <ppp>-<mp> then she would melt a stone hearth. A magical
Alcina turning desperately human. Great.

Ann Murray (Ruggiero)
Excellent as singer, as musician, as actor. She just laked some bite when
needed. Otherwise could not have been better. True improvement over the
male falsettist who sang when the production was premiered (3 years ago?).

Isabel Rey (Morgana)
The edgyness in her voice often goes over the pain level reaching cradle-on-
the-board effects. But she owns true musicianship and can sing well. Some
excellent messe di voce, and perfect trills. Sometimes in recitativi came
near to spoken voice. Overall a fine performance.

Kathleen McKellar (Bradamante)
Baroque theatre likes contrasts, maybe it was the reason for her presence
in the cast. Probably she thinks that by being able to vocalise the notes of
a coloratura passage she is allowed to sing a Haendel role? Not only the
pronounciation was dreadful, but she did not seem to be interested to the
meaning of words. Baroque opera is "prima le parole, poi la musica" where
coloratura is a kind of architecture giving 3D character to words. I wonder
why she sings this music.

Roberto Sacca' (Oronte)
He is no specialist and sings (well) with a "romantic" voice. But: why should
a tenor sing this music with white voice? For blending the voice with
falsettists? I liked very much Sacca' in this role!

Anton Scharinger (Melisso)
A pleasant surprise in the arias: he showed a very good voice control. But the
recitativi (the few surviving pieces) were insufficient. Specially the
dialogues with Bradamante.

Elizabet Magnuson
A light voiced coloratura specialist, she was very good with one exception:
she had big troubles in dramatic moments. The confrontation with Alcina in
act 3 ("Barbara!") was problematic, as she had to use a nearly spoken shouting
voice. But some impressive high notes allowed her to turn a mixed performance
in a success.

I was surprised to read an article about the maning of baroque theatre in the
program booklet. It is a negative analyse, of the 19th century kind: the 18th
should have been an unhappy time of lost values, a decadence period needing
masks for hidding a worn face. It was not the first one, every very non-Mozart
18th opera seems to be treated the like on these programs!
In fact the sistematic use of disguisements and ambiguous elements was the
following of ethical and social believings. Only gods, heros and monarchs
were allowed to have a protagonist role in the world. Other people had a place
in the theatre of social life and in history, but by wearing a mask and playing
some role - without freedom to decide what to do.
People were supposed to appear as they were and to be their own master only
in private life (and by contrast moral allowed a big freedom here!).
Our times are like in the 19th: everyone is allowed to shout loudly to the
world "I am here". And who cares if the world will like it. This contrast with
the staged opera was provided by two groups of young people who attended the
performance thanks to the schools seats share. They disturbed by playing a
kind of caugh competition (sometimes applauding themselves) and sometimes
applauding randomly the performance. Of course there was no caughing with
lights on. As student prices are already less than a movie theatre seat maybe
it would be better to avoid to bring in people who does not know what they
are attending?

Giovanni Christen
[log in to unmask]

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