Handel’s Ariodante at Barbican Hall

Handel
Ariodante – Opera in three acts to an anonymous libretto based on Antonio Salvi’s Ginevra after Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso [Concert performance sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Ariodante – Joyce DiDonato
Ginevra – Karina Gauvin
Lurcanio – Nicholas Phan
Dalinda – Sabina Puértolas
King of Scotland – Matthew Brook
Polinesso – Marie-Nicole Lemieux
Odoardo – Sam Furness

Il Complesso Barocco
Alan Curtis


Reviewed by: John-Pierre Joyce

Reviewed: 25 May, 2011
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Nicely timed to coincide with the release of their recording of Handel’s “Ariodante”, Il Complesso Barocco and its founder Alan Curtis re-appeared at the Barbican Hall for a concert performance with most of the recording’s cast.

Things didn’t get off to a great start. The members of Il Complesso Barocco seemed to feel their way through the Overture, unsure of which direction to take. This characterised much of the first half of the concert, which covered Act One and the first part of Act Two. The haunting ‘Sinfonia’ at the start of the second Act sounded fumbled and scratchy. The same awkwardness hindered an otherwise impressive cast. Joyce DiDonato’s Ariodante was brisk and robust, but not terribly moving. Her ‘Scherza infida’ was too self-consciously stylised, despite sterling string support and Carles Cristobal’s masterful bassoon playing. Karina Gauvin’s Ginevra was serviceable enough, but rather restrained and looked uncomfortable. Only Nicholas Phan stood out in the minor role of Lurcanio.

All this changed in the second half. DiDonato emerged with a sensitive portrayal of the deceived prince, and her Act Three ‘Dopo notte’ was technically faultless whilst being warm and highly personal. Gauvin, too, grew into her role and proved a far stronger interpreter of Ginevra’s tragic victimhood than of her earlier flighty innocence. Marie-Nicole Lemieux seems to make a speciality of mad, bad and sad roles. In this case, she took on the tricky part of nasty Polinesso with characteristic aplomb. Only Sabina Puértolas failed to impress as Dalinda, Ginevra’s naïve and gullible lady-in-waiting. Her delivery remained tight and rough-edged throughout, despite the opportunity to express a variety of moods and techniques in this complex and intriguing role.

The earlier disappointments of Il Complesso Barocco were quickly forgotten, with some engaging and dramatic playing during which both Curtis and the orchestra finally seemed to be enjoying themselves.



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