Next up at Pittsburgh Opera is George Frideric Handel’s Alcina – a baroque work that, while centuries old, is anything but “time honored.” The opera (“Alcheenah” to American speaking ears) was premiered at London’s Covent Garden in 1735, revived for Brunswick a few years later, then, as far as music historians can tell, disappeared into obscurity until it was dusted off for a Leipzig run in 1928. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that Alcina began to receive the respect she well deserves, and while since that time the opera has been recorded and staged on a number of occasions, the performances beginning Saturday, January 25, at the CAPA Theater, will mark the company’s premiere of the musical tale of sorcery and seduction. With Antony Walker at the podium, Matthew Haney directing, an impressive cast of vocal talent on the stage and Chatham Baroque collaborating, the production should prove well worth the wait.
Mr. Walker recently took the time to share some thoughts on the opera and the upcoming performances he will conduct.
“I love baroque music. I love early music. I used to have a baroque orchestra in Australia. I love working with that sound, and trying to get that sound out of modern instruments, and also teaching singers how to sing stylistically as well. Trying to recreate the sound-world of the baroque as perhaps Handel may have wanted to hear it is something that is really exciting to me. Marrying the historically-informed performance practice with modern stagings – I just get very excited about that.
“Handel requires so much virtuosity and expression from each and every singer and each and every instrumentalist. You’re constantly going from an aria that is completely virtuosic with tremendously fast runs and wide leaps to very slow arias with beautiful melodies that need to be sung with exquisite expression and ornamentation. Handel demands a lot from singers in both directions.
“I’m so excited to be collaborating with Chatham Baroque again. The last time I worked with them was in 2003, for The Return of Ulysses. We got along so well, and I love the way they play, love their passion for what they do and their expertise, and I think I can help them transfer their talents to the operatic sphere. I’m looking forward to just bouncing ideas off each other, and also for Andrew Fouts, their violinist, to impart his experience of baroque violin playing to our sections and help me achieve that very specific sound that, when you get it, just makes Handel come alive.
“It’s always really exciting working with young singers on Handel. There is an openness to them, and if they haven’t done much work on the style there’s always a way to really spark their imaginations and get them really excited about the spontaneous and expressive qualities that this music has. You have more freedom in baroque music than you do in, say, Puccini. There’s less written on the page, and therefore more that the artist has to put into it. When you work with these young artists and try to give them the tools to create their musical roles as well as their dramatic ones, it’s often a very exciting process for them, even if it starts off being a little scary. Each of the singers here is attacking the process in slightly different ways but with equal enthusiasm. We’re all working together towards a common goal, which is really fantastic.”
The cast includes familiar faces/voices and a couple of new ones. Soprano Caitlin Gotimer (Alcina) and mezzo-soprano Antonia Botti-Lodovico (Ruggiero) have already given a number of fine performances with the company, and soprano Natasha Wilson (Morgana) made a favorable first impression earlier this season in Florencia en el Amazonas. Tyler Zimmerman (Melisso) is a bass-baritone who improves with each hearing. The new tenor Angel Romero (Oronte) and baritone Yazid Gray (Attendant) will make their company debuts, and mezzo-soprano Laurel Semerdjian (Bradamante) is a former Resident Artist whose return for this production will surely please her many admirers in Pittsburgh.
For tickets, full plot and production details, as well as the usual resources and features the company always includes on its well-designed website, visit Pittsburgh Opera.
David Bachman Photography for Pittsburgh Opera
Special thanks to Christian D. Cox, Director of Marketing and Communications for Pittsburgh Opera.
A Pittsburgh native, George B. Parous began his studies of music and the ‘cello in grade school before his interests turned to opera, its performers and history while in his teens. He has been acknowledged as a contributor or editor of several published works (the first being “Rosa Raisa, A Biography of a Diva,” Northeastern University Press, 2001), and is currently working on his own biography of the German-American dramatic soprano, Johanna Gadski, who sang at the Metropolitan during the “Golden Age of Opera.” A retired IT Analyst, he is an avid genealogist, and has traced his maternal line to 8th century Wessex, England. He’s been a contributor to Pittsburgh in the Round since 2014.