Great moments in opera: Alcina

June 13, 2011

I have seen two of Handel’s operas on the stage.  At the first, which was Giulio Cesare, a gentleman in the row behind me snored loudly through most of it, and I thought his commentary apt.  The second was Alcina, a seemingly interminable opera comprised of over 3 hours’ worth of recitative and da capo arias.  The music is lovely, of course, but one can have too much of a good thing.  I confess I left after the second act.

Nonetheless, I thought this week to give it another try, and I listened to a recent, highly praised recording led by Alan Curtis.  The story is based on Ariosto’s Orlando furioso.  Alcina is a sorceress who makes use of enchantments and magical rings to ensnare unsuspecting passers-by.  During the course of the opera, she is destroyed by Ruggiero, a Crusading knight, and Bradamante, his lover.

The finest moment in the opera is undoubtedly the aria Verdi prati (Green meadows), sung by Ruggiero when his enchantment is lifted and he sees, for the first time, the monster-infested island on which he has been trapped by Alcina.  It is a beautiful song, sung here by counter-tenor Andreas Scholl:

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