Georg Friedrich Händel
Unknown librettist, text based on Ludovico Ariost
Festival Première on 17th July 2005 at the Prinzregententheater
Christof Loy - Notes on the Production
Seven characters are brought together on Alcina's enchanted island, seven individuals of heterogeneous origin, with different philosophies of life and dissimilar personal goals and needs. This place becomes a utopia for them all, a place where their wishes can come true. They are only vouchsafed the taste of one blissful moment, from which they must quickly take their leave, because Alcina's magical isle is an unreal, totally ephemeral place.
In Alcina's beautiful, illusory world, people have no need to cope with reality. Politics, wars, commerce and moral obligations have no place this counter-world. Here, it's all about emotional needs and the possibility of living them out unconditionally. In this sense, the title character is set apart by one factor that we quickly recognize as socially inadmissible: an oversized, egotistical need for emotions, which she allows herself to demand from others, but which she would also like to bestow on them. Alcina loves the sensation of happiness and would also like to pass it on in her own way. Unlike the late romantic era, which runs away into the night with its longings, Alcina's magical world presents itself as a bright daydream.
Bradamante and Melisso now penetrate into this world from the outside; they gradually take over power in this domain, so that even Alcina is forced to defend herself and her dreams. This way, the conflict that gradually develops, becomes a struggle against a system in which people withdraw from responsibility for their fellow human beings. Almost interpretable as a foresight of the political upheavals at the end of the 18th century, here we see how the absolute monarchy of Queen Alcina shatters, and a bourgeois world dominated by morality and common sense takes over.
For a long time Alcina thought she didn't need to consider what happens to the people she uses to satisfy her lusts and then casts aside. She, the autocratic queen, has limitless access to whatever means she wants to employ. Now she finds herself faced with an unfamiliar situation when she falls in love with a man, Ruggiero, for the first time in her life. In constant worry about this love, which in the course of the plot is less and less reciprocated by Ruggiero, Alcina clearly realizes her loss of dignity in the eyes of the others, making hers more and more vulnerable. In these moments, she remembers her old magic power, but it has lost its effectiveness, because this intense emotionality has made every form of dissimulation impossible. But her love for Ruggiero unhinges her power, makes all deception and enchantment inoperative, and turns the mistress of disguise into an undisguised woman in love. This way, as the story progresses, Alcina realizes that in the core of her being she is a very vulnerable woman, who senses that everything she has created is totally unreal and just as fragile as her relationship with Ruggiero.
For the figure of Alcina, Händel has composed music that almost forces the viewer and listener to fall in love with this woman. We realize how totally ruled by emotion she is, as she begins to perceive her innocence. Finally the differentiation between offenders and victims becomes more and more impossible in this give and take of emotions and injuries. Excitingly enough, here Händel shows no interest in the usual male and female attributes. The chivalrous Ruggiero is initially soft and malleable, while his fiancée Bradamante in male garb reveals herself to be enormously virile and combative. Not until the third act, which realigns the existing dis-order in terms of convention, does Ruggiero gain heroic features, while Bradamante's return to the traditional role of the diffident wife is also described. For just this reason, we develop a great fondness for Alcina, because she is a woman with an uninhibited sensitivity to the pleasures of the senses. She promises a certain intoxication, fascinated as we are by her unaccustomed immoderateness. Everything she does, she does to excess. But for that very reason Alcina becomes the kind of character we need in our ordered world.
Alcina focuses on people who fulsomely express themselves about the state of their feelings. In doing this, they are not alone in comprehending their own beings, but allow us to share in this process of recognition and realization. Despite the conventional mid-eighteenth century specification to display entire arias and with them contrasting sequences of emotion in Italian opera seria, today these works allow for a psychological interpretation and staging of the characters. Each phrase, each coloratura passage, each ornamentation forms a comprehensive dramaturgy, a prism of emotional reflections, which we seek to intermingle in our production in such a way that it is not a series of arias and emotions, but rather a dialogue amongst the characters in the drama.
In his score, Händel designs a complex image of the human being, his needs, fears and desires. He molds all the characters musically with great love and understanding, regardless of the position they assume in the historical-hierarchical scheme of things. With huge generosity, he portrays the spectrum of human behavior and dysfunction.
English Translation by Donald Arthur
© Bavarian State Opera