Ariodante – review

Barbican, London

Concert versions of Handel's operas can end up feeling like competitions. As singer follows singer in apparently endless sequence, each attempting to nail one impossible aria after another, the stakes grow ever higher to succeed and even surpass the preceding participant. What made this performance of Ariodante special was that the quality of the vocalism – outstanding at its best – remained connected to the dramatic progress of the work itself.

Perhaps the fact that the conductor, orchestra and most of the cast have been involved in a recent recording helped, because even with a lack of sets, costumes or directed physical movement, each of the artists focused not only on what they were singing, but also on whom they were singing it to and in precisely what situation. The level of dramatic engagement attained is not always matched in fully staged productions.

Nor, for that matter, is the level of singing. In the title role – a medieval knight whose world falls apart when he believes his fiancee faithless – Joyce DiDonato was accomplished in her every gesture, physical or vocal, and turned the famous showpiece Dopo Notte into something as elegant as it was triumphant.

In purely vocal terms, she was matched, if not outgunned, by Karina Gauvin as the falsely accused Ginevra. The richness and variety of her extraordinary soprano – ample in tone, mezzo-like in its resplendent depths – was spectacularly displayed in several arias. Running them both close was the wide-ranging contralto of Marie-Nicole Lemieux as the vile Polinesso, whose deception brings both Ginevra and Ariodante to the brink of destruction. The result was more or less a three-way photo finish.

The secondary roles were all effectively taken, though Alan Curtis's direction of his period-instrument group Il Complesso Barocco needed a touch more character and momentum.


George Hall

The GuardianTramp

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