Glyndebourne Encore is the Sussex-based opera house’s subscription-only online streaming service. There are more than 20 full-length operas available to watch, on demand, along with vintage recordings. The latest production to go live is this new version of Handel’s Alcina (1735), which received its world premiere at the 2022 Glyndebourne Festival.
In Handel’s fantasy fairytale opera, the sorceress Alcina lures young men to her island to become her lovers. When she tires of them she transforms them into animals, plants or even rocks. She falls for the handsome Ruggerio and uses her magic to trap him on her island.
However, the young man is betrothed to the faithful Bradamante, who travels to the island to search for her lover. Also on the island on a mission to find someone who has been ensorcelled by Alcina is the young boy Oberto, looking for his father Astolfo, who was last seen heading to the island. He has since been transformed into a lion.
Morgana, sister to Alcina and also a sorceress, shares the island. She is in love with Oronte, one of Alcina’s discarded lovers.
Stage director’s Francesco Micheli’s new production of the opera locates the action in 1960s Italy. Alcina is the proprietor and main act of a variety theatre called Isola di Alcina (Alcina’s Island). There businessmen come to drink and dance the night away. But in a plot device reminiscent of Hotel California, they can never leave.
The production is spectacular. It looks simply sumptuous. Special mention must go here to costume designer Alessio Rosati and his team. The outfits are fantastic. Morgana’s mermaid dress looks like something Dita von Teese would wear. Mike Ashcroft’s choreography, too, is excellent. The dance sections are hugely fun.
This is a challenging opera to sing, with some especially demanding coloratura for Alcina and Morgana. Happily Canadian soprano Jane Archibald as the former and British soprano Soraya Mafi as the latter more than rise to the occasion, handling the vocal acrobatics with seeming effortlessness and deftness.
The acting is also impressive. Archibald embodies all-powerful sorceress, heart-broken spurned lover and revengeful queen in turn. This is no evil queen who must be destroyed, but rather a study of a woman who despite her great power can’t find happiness. We believe she truly loves Ruggerio and is devastated when he returns to his fiancee.
American mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey is a swaggering Ruggerio at the beginning and I wonder how much fun it must have been for a woman to sing such a role. She also plays his more reflective and bitter parts well.
This is one of the best filmed productions I’ve seen. The camera work serves to get the viewer right in the heart of the action. This is one of the benefits of streaming opera – you really do get the best views. You can also pause and rewatch as many times as you want.
This does, of course, depend on how well the opera is lit (I’ve seen streamed productions which were so dark you could hardly see anything). Here, as you might expect from Glyndebourne, the lighting is spot on.
This is my first experience of Alcina and the music is stunning. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is very ably conducted by Jonathan Cohen.
The quality of this recording is high. My only criticism is that the English subtitles were patchy, at times totally missing, making it hard to follow along. There was also no way of telling who was singing what from the text; with so many sopranos singing the roles and as a newcomer to this particular opera this made it hard for me to ascribe the words to the singer sometimes.
Glyndebourne Encore isn’t a free service. An annual subscription costs £79.99, with a £20 discount for Glyndebourne Members. There are many more operas available, though – 25 at the last count, with more to come.
The costumes in director Francesco Micheli’s new production of Handel’s Alcina are stunning. Here we see soprano Jane Archibald as the eponymous sorceress.