Alcina, Semperoper Dresden, November 4th 2011
Director ..... Jan Philipp Gloger
Conductor ..... Rainer Mühlbach
Alcina ..... Amanda Majeski
Ruggiero ..... Barbara Senator
Bradamante ..... Christa Mayer
Morgana ..... Nadja Mchantaf
Melisso ..... Markus Butter
Oronte ..... Simeon Esper
Oronte ..... Simeon Esper
Oberto ..... Elena Gorshunova
Chorista 1 ..... Manuel Günther
Chorista 2 ..... Michael Kranebitter
Jan Philipp Gloger (JPG) is a very young German director that we will be talking about in 2012 around the premiere of The Flying Dutchman that he is preparing for the opening of the next Festival in Bayreuth. The only other opera he's produced so far is Le nozze di Figaro in Augsburg, earlier this year -- the production that the fellow blogger Musica Sola saw and liked a lot.
Alcina is a totally different kind of `beast' and it was interesting to see how Jan Philipp would cope with a far-fetched libretto, if he would be able to sustain the attention of the crowd in a long opera, and in a repertoire that the Semperoper public is less familiar with.
I should stop here for a few lines and express my admiration for Ulrike Hessler and her exemplary way to run Semperoper. Besides a tricky production of the Paris version of Tannhäuser, presented on Good Friday, and Stefan Herheim shows (everything phenomenally sung!), she took a huge risk with this Alcina: this was to be the first baroque opera performed on the main stage of this prestigious house, which they mounted without engaging any big star of the baroque repertoire. Instead, they wanted to make it all new and confided a job to a 30 year old hyper-talented director who never produced a baroque opera before, and let Rainer Mühlbach --Dresden native-- take charge of the musical side of the production. Rainer is experienced in the Mozart operas but not in baroque. Add to that the astonishing Semperoper troupe, who took responsibility to bring this opera to life in the best of ways, and you have an almost futuristic production. This is what the opera will look like in this or next decade, I believe.
Knowing that the Semperoper is a rather "tradition rules" kind of house, this was a very audacious initiative on so many levels. But hey -- it worked! It was one of the most enjoyable opera evenings for me in 2011, and if you scroll back you will see that I attended way too many opera shows in 2011. You could've sensed in auditorium that everyone involved in this show was focused, desired to do well, gave 100%, and enjoyed the moment to be there and perform.
To situate the theatrical profile of JPG in one sentence, I'd say he has elements of the crystal-clearness of Bieito, and the sensibility close to that of Warlikowski (without cinematographic references), but it eventually is something else -- a new quality.
Let me briefly take you through the show, so you can see the way Gloger interpreted the libretto, the synopsis of which you can read here.
His Alcina is a glamorous femme fatale. She is aware of her beauty and her irresistible attractiveness and use it to a full potential to seduce as many men as possible. This feeds her ego and makes her ever more cruel towards all these men who lost their mind for her: some of them are obsessed by her, the others are ruined. Oberto comes and looks for his father [one of those men who got deadly in love with Alcina, and are now in her possession; on the stage he is indeed there but like a ghost... Oberto cannot find him even though he feels his presence.] Ruggero comes and he too falls for Alcina. She plays with him through the labyrinth of love, and he falls desperately in love with her. Even the warnings by Oronte that Alcina manipulates her men to destroy them more easily, only make his love for her stronger. Bradamante comes to look for her men, and there we understand that Bradamante is Ruggero's wife, and that she came with her friend/lawyer Melisso to look for her husband who left her and their children for another woman. She is a woman who fights for her man, for the father of her children. In parallel happens the drama with Alcina: Alcina sees her reflection in the mirror and fears the inexorable aging might soon diminish her charms and beauty, her power. This is why she gets obsessed by the idea of keeping Ruggero close to her. He is proof of her power and letting him go would be a confirmation that she is not as beautiful and seductive as she used to be. Bradamante and Melisso will convince Ruggero to leave Alcina, and come back to his family; in fact Melisso will remind him of his legal duties to his family, and Bradamante will try to bring him to his senses by reminding him of their children.
Alcina is devastated by the loss of Ruggero and ends in a psychiatric ward. Ruggero instead cannot live tormented between his love for Alcina and his duty as pater familias and commits suicide. Alcina, years later, remains totally alone, alone with her memories... there is nobody around her, only an old painting reminding her how young, beautiful and loved she once was.
The success of this passionate interpretation is very much due to creative intelligence of the set designer -- Ben Baur. The stage is organized in three layers filling the depth of the stage, and they are in almost constant movement showing various chambers of a big Alcina's house. Soon it starts feeling like a labyrinth populated by lost souls of all those men who fatally fell in love with her. As the drama progresses Alcina in fact gets trapped in her own labyrinth. In the end, the sets dissolve (in a way similar to what Malgorzata Szczesniak does in the Warlikowski productions) and disappear from the stage, leaving the empty space with Alcina sitting alone in the background -- with a painting and a clump of her old things.
Baur is under 30 too, and it is astonishing how beautifully the stage movements follow the music and let the drama progress emphasizing the poetry of it while being very straightforward at the same time. Glogger masterfully guide the actors to make the whole show clear, yet poetic and stylish -- including the non-trivial, surprising albeit plausible ending. As I said above, to me this is how I believe the intelligent opera productions will look like in 2010-2020... when the opera houses start hiring younger and/or more intelligent directors.
The cast is composed entirely of the members of the Semperoper ensemble. They do a very good job. Nobody is really great-great, but they are all powerful to easily fill up the large auditorium of the Semperoper. They are scenically magnificent -- you could see the complicity among them in the stage action.
Amanda Majeski incarnates Alcina with passion and even if her medium is a bit too bright for Alcina, she is more comfortable in the higher range of her voice where she brings all the nuances of the character. Barbara Senator is excellent as Ruggero even if she gets a bit tired towards the end. She carried the show together with Amanda and invested all their charisma in their respective characters. It took me a bit to get used to the timbre of Morgana, Nadja Mchantaf, but her vocal engagement is so big that I ended up shouting bravo after her Torna Mi A Vagheggiar [in this production she tries to seduce Melisso --the lawyer and Bradamante's friend-- and thereby help Alcina]
Christa Mayer is well known as Erda, as a lieder-singer, but baroque?! I was saying naah before the show, and cringed a bit at the beginning but she manages to vocally sculpt a compelling portrait of Bradamante -- of a woman determined to who fight for her man, no matter what... Finally, Markus Butter, Simeon Esper, and Elena Gorshunova complete the main roles by being totally in command of their respective roles.
Rainer Mühlbach conducted his orchestra with modesty --without a new reading of the score-- and with great precision.
I'll be back to Dresden!
Production photos ©Matthias Creutziger
|Amanda Majeski, Christa Mayer, Simeon Esper, and Markus Butter|
|Bradamante, Alcina, and Ruggero|
|Barbara Senator, Amanda Majeski, and Rainer Mühlbach|