Baroque is back: Handel's 'Alcina' storms Vienna State Opera
Baroque opera made a tumultuous comeback at the Vienna State Opera on Sunday, with a brand new production of "Alcina" by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), which was met with rapturous applause.
Baroque opera was long banned under the house's longest-serving director Ioan Holender, who stepped down at the end of the last season after 18 years at the helm.
And while "Alcina", composed in 1735, is one of Handel's best-loved operas, it has never been performed before at the prestigious Staatsoper.
Thus, the new staging -- by British director Adrian Noble -- represented a veritable revolution by the house's new director, Frenchman Dominique Meyer.
All the more revolutionary was the fact that the State Opera's "in-house" orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, was not in the pit, but French period-instrument band, Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble, under their chief conductor Marc Minkowski.
It is, in fact, the first time ever in the history of the Staatsoper that a guest ensemble has been in the pit.
For their new production, Minkowski and Noble have assembled a top-notch cast of baroque specialists, including German soprano Anja Harteros in the title role, Bulgarian mezzo Vesselina Kasarova as Ruggiero and Argentinian soprano Veronica Cangemi as Morgana.
All of them have previously sung their roles to great critical acclaim in houses such as the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.
With visually stunning sets and costumes by Anthony Ward, Noble places the action in the 18th century where the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Cavendish, has invited friends and family to a private performance of "Alcina" in her ballroom.
This simple, but illuminating idea allows the solo instrumentalists of the superb Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble -- who were also in costume dress -- to accompany the singers in on stage during their concertino arias.
Singers, orchestra, conductor and director all received tumultuous applause at the end of the four-hour evening.
"Alcina" is being performed just five times until November 26 in the current season.
© 2010 AFP