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15th March 2022

Review: Opera North’s Alcina

Jess Ferguson reviews Opera North’s Alcina at the Lowry
Review: Opera North’s Alcina
Photo: James Glossop.

At first glance, the stage at the Lowry Theatre shows rows of stage lights suspended just above floor level. Upon further observation, you see a minimalist office-like setting with multiple green chairs and cushions. The bear skin rug with its large head draws attention, but other than that, it appears to be a fairly simple set. The use of the set by cast members was a very clever way to enhance the story and helped this Italian opera be conveyed effectively.

As soon as the orchestra start, however, the lights begin to rise up and the grey screen at the back begins to form an ominous grey video of moving across the sea towards a remote island. This, along with Melissa (Claire Pascoe), in dark clothes with her raven staff striding along the back, presents a very dark and gloomy atmosphere. Once the backdrop video had shown our arrival onto this island, the show began. The black and white video continued throughout the show moving around a jungle setting the location of the story.

We are first introduced to Melissa and Ricciardo (Mari Askvik), whose boat has washed up on this island. Joining them onstage, we meet Morgana (Fflur Wyn), Oronte (Nick Pritchard), Ruggiero (Patrick Terry) and the island’s queen, Alcina (Sky Ingram). It was no surprise that the voices of all these characters were sublime, complementing the orchestra perfectly. Immediately during this number, the romantic relationship between Ruggiero and Alcina becomes clear with them kissing, cuddling, and rolling around on the floor together. Yes, if you’re not a fan of PDA, this opera is not for you. Their duet detailing their love for each other was not only extremely passionate but was almost comical in their movements with them rolling around on the bear skin rug.

Terry’s falsetto voice particularly stood out in its impressiveness, and I can only applaud his stamina for keeping it up for the entire performance; this opera is anything but easy to sing! Ingram, a high soprano who was filling in for Máire Flavin, effortlessly reached top Bs and Cs with an exceptionally strong voice. The strong, powerful aspect of Alcina was perfectly brought across, but what was more impressive was her breakdown of the character when she became heartbroken at the end.

As the show went on it was revealed that Ricciardo was actually Bradamante, a former lover of Ruggiero who had come to find him. Twelth Night by Shakespeare immediately sprung to mind, with similarities in how gender becomes masked. A role being played by a woman pretending to be a man who is actually a woman may seem like a confusing concept, but it was a very enjoyable part of the story. However, during Ruggiero’s realisation that Ricciardo is Bradamante, the lights were lowered once more, similar to the beginning of the show. This concept was confusing, and I felt it didn’t particularly add much.

Of all the characters, Oronte is one that you feel particularly sorry for. He’s constantly pushed around by Alcina and often is just ignored by the other characters. As soon as Ricciardo arrives on the island, Oronte’s wife, Morgana, leaves him, stating that she is in love with Ricciardo. He’s obviously devastated and becomes inconsolable, seen by him removing all of his clothes (yes, he removes all of his clothes). When Morgana finds out that Ricciardo is in fact Bradamante, she tries to go back to Oronte, but he tries to refuse her. She then removes her clothes in sadness (yes, more clothes are removed). However, whilst you want Oronte to become a single, independent man who doesn’t need Morgana, he eventually goes back to her, exclaiming that he cannot help his love.

The show’s themes of love, loss, and power were extremely well conveyed by Opera North with the modern set providing an enjoyable spin on this classic piece. A 100% sustainable production, it was lovely to see a company showing the enjoyable and entertaining nature of opera.

Alcina played at the Lowry for one night only and tours the UK for just another 10 days!

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