Handel’s Alcina at Barbican Hall

Alcina – Opera in three acts to a libretto based on an anonymous adaptation of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso [concert performance sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Alcina – Inga Kalna
Ruggiero – Vesselina Kasarova
Bradamante – Romina Basso
Morgana – Veronica Cangemi
Oronte – Benjamin Bruns
Melisso – Luca Tittoto
Oberto – Shintaro Nakajima

Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble
Marc Minkowski

Reviewed by: John-Pierre Joyce

Reviewed: 4 December, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

One singer’s misfortune can be another’s opportunity – Latvian soprano Inga Kalna grabbed her chance with both hands when she stood in for a sore-throated Anja Harteros in this concert performance of Handel’s “Alcina”, part of the Barbican Centre’s “Great Performers” series. Not that Kalna is a stranger to the role. She has sung it in Hamburg, Paris and Milan, and has already worked with Marc Minkowski and his Grenoble-based band. Nevertheless, it was no mean feat to step into Harteros’s shoes and work with an established cast of singers and players fresh from the Vienna Staatsoper’s recent staging of the opera. That said it took Kalna some time to grow into the role. Her first two arias in Act One passed well enough, but it wasn’t until the central ‘Ah! mio cor’ – with its extremes of vengeance and grief – that she really made the audience sit up and take notice. Throughout the remainder of Acts Two and Three she displayed a striking degree of vocal stamina and sensitivity, investing each of her arias with convincing emotional intensity.

Kalna was well-supported by the remainder of the cast. Only Romina Basso failed to convince as the steely Bradamante. A replacement for Kristina Hammarström in the original Vienna production, her delivery was plain and a little timid. Much more exciting was the appearance of Vienna choirboy Shintaro Nakajima in the minor role of Oberto. His bright, perfectly controlled tone marked out his two contributions for distinction. Vesselina Kasarova was particularly impressive as the errant knight Ruggiero. Her muscular grip over the music’s technical demands and her astonishing range put one in mind of the famed castrato Carestini, who took the role at the London premiere in 1735. Kasarova’s rollicking rendition of ‘Sta nell’Ircana’ in the final act ranked as one of the evening’s highlights.

The singers were ably backed by Les Musiciens du Louvre under Minkowski. His fleet, no-nonsense reading of the score helped to push the drama forward, while allowing for some intriguing Rameau-esqe moments, particularly during the ballet interludes. It was an excellent idea to allow the violin, recorder and cello players their share of the limelight next to the singers during three significant arias for Morgana and Ruggiero.

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