Divas literally tear up the scenery in Handel’s ripping Alcina, an Indiana University Opera production inhabiting the Musical Arts Center through Feb. 13 and 14. On opening night, a full house audience witnessed superlative singing, acting, staging and costume, stage and lighting design, proving that, nearly three centuries after its premiere, Handel’s music and Antonio Fanzaglia’s libretto still intrigue and retain freshness.
We arrived at our seats to witness a backdrop of clouds and waves intermingling in hues of grays and blues towards infinity, with a scattering of gilt and embroidered chairs off to each side. The music started recognizably Handel — as two men in dark suits entered, suitcases in hand. In a blink everything was in motion — a stage upon a stage appeared in pop-up book fashion and characters dressed in lush shades of red introduced themselves.
As the storyline starts on an enchanted Island ruled by Alcina, who's abetted by her sister Morgana, whose own inconstancy keeps Oronte in flux. All of Alcina’s lovers are lured ashore and made sport of — and at this instant the victim is Ruggiero.
Enter Bradamante posing as her brother Ricciardo, in the company of her guardian, Melisso, in search for her lost fiancé — the self-same Ruggiero. Arriving soon after is Oberto, in search of his missing father.
Don’t worry about the confusion of who loves whom, is rejected and reunited. It all becomes perfectly clear through the unfolding three acts with swift scenic changes and soaring arias.
The 1735 opera is a bittersweet Valentine’s confection mirroring our desires and needs to be loved. And, of course — and as is the case for Alcina — some of us are unwilling to submit to the vulnerability of loving in return until…and therein lies the drama.
We all know people like Alcina, in the guise of all genders, who lure us with loveless lust — the sentiment is summed up through the line, “We all love without hope.” Yet we feel her pain when in the end she loses all.
Presiding over the new production were conductor Arthur Fagen, stage director Chas Rade-Shieber, set and costume designer Robert Perdziola and lighting designer Patrick Mero. The outstanding orchestra and cast, which alternates each performance, earned the ovation.