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The advantage of Alden's approach is that he is interested in the drama of the story and the underlying passions of the characters, he does not feel that he has to keep us entertained during the long arias. This is not a Handel opera production where gimmicks are included to prevent the audience getting bored. For example the dancing in Act 1 is slightly sinister and scary, even though the underlying feel of the act is generally celebratory. Alden is interested in highlighting to us the impossibility of Ariodante and Ginevra's idyll, nowhere is that perfect, he seems to be saying. There are moments when the production can seem a little busy and Alden often does violence to the conventions of opera seria where characters usually exit the stage after a da capo aria. But there is usually a clear and serious reason behind his decisions; he is interested in the characters' emotions and rarely tries to apply his own plot over Handel's.
Rebecca Evans as Ginevra in Handel's 'Ariodante'. Photo © 2006 English National Opera and Stephen Vaughan
Alden very much takes his dark view of the work from the events of Acts 2 and 3 where Polinesso and Dalinda trick everyone into thinking Ginevra, on the ever of her wedding to Ariodante, has an assignation with Polinesso. Ariodante tries to commit suicide, Ginevra is cast off by her father and placed in prison. Handel ends Act 2 with the traditional long, serious da capo aria for a single character on stage, this time Ginevra. But after the aria Ginevra falls asleep and the dance movements depict the battle between her good and bad dreams. The act then closes with a short dramatic recitative from Ginevra. This is a remarkable act ending for an opera seria and one which goes a long way towards integrating dance into the very fabric of the opera. Handel might never have performed it as written though, the autograph manuscript is evidently confusing. (Handel staged the work with Marie Salle's dance company and her departure from London unfortunately robbed us of any further integrated dance works from his pen.)
Copyright © 5 June 2006
Robert Hugill, London UK