Ariodante: when music brings to life an epic poem
by Sebastiano Bazzichetto
TORONTO - Five hundred years ago Ludovico Ariosto released the first version of his Orlando Furioso (The Frenzy of Orlando), an epic poem destined to become one of the masterpieces of Italian literature of all times. Some two hundred years later a famous German musician, Friedrich Händel, set to music an episode from canto V of that very poem, composing the score of his “Ariodante”.
It simply was a landmark in the history of opera that premiered at the Convent Garden in London, launching the theatre’s very first season. And now, finally in Toronto with an entirely new production (for only four shows, including tonight’s), the audience can be amazed by this eclectic and astonishing opera.
ULTZ, British director, set and costume designer, spent two years researching the most suitable attire to give shape to an isolated and remote community of fishermen that lives on a Scottish island. It is for this reason that Polinesso, originally a duke, has become a religious figure: in such a community, the most reliable figure is that of a priest. But this does not cause the downfall of the plot. The set accurately reproduces a wooden house of a fisherman, with sharp white lines that signal the walls and defines the theatrical scenery.
Although far from the time when the great Italian castrato Giovanni Carestini appeared on stage wearing a helmet crowned with six-feet-high white and red plumes, this Coc new production does not lack Baroque acrobatics. In fact, Baroque fans will be thrilled by the prodigious singing put on display. The entire cast is just phenomenal, no one deserving less than superlative words of praise, being able to amaze the audience for a three-hour performance.
Jane Archibald (Ginevra) and Ambur Braid (Dalinda, her lady-in-waiting) are simply miraculous: not only do they give voice to their characters’ feelings, but they also combine an impressive vocal technique with a demanding, extremely modern acting. They are able to gracefully embellish their arias with trills and leaps as if it were the most natural of tasks for an opera singer. Alice Coote (Ariodante) and Varduhi Abrahamyan (Polinesso) are no less brilliant in their travesti roles, making the audience believe their robust presence on stage.
In the end, when love and a happy return to order should triumph, Ginevra decides to leave her home, and to travel, hitchhiking, in a captivating rephrasing of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Under the baton of conductor Johannes Debus, Händel’s music shines on a vibrant story of love, honour and deception.
(On stage at the Four Seasons Centre until November 4)
(Tuesday 25 October 2016)