Enchanted by Alcina @ Royal Opera House, London

My first in person opera since COVID times began! A cheap restricted view seat (described as a wooden bench) turned out to be practically on the stage, only restricted when the cast disappeared far stage right and I had a fantastic view of both orchestra and stage. Felt like I was nearly in the opera! Plus, a jolly group of people around me.

Anyhow — to the plot! This is a Handel opera — so sung in Italian with lots of harpsichord action! Alcina is a cheeky sorceress who decides to mess with the local community and turn lots of them into animals to serve her; apart from those who she chooses to love and share her zest for life with. She sprays them with a giant perfume bottle (aka the cursed urn) which turns them into fawning animals, who all adore her. The transformation of heavy pink spray which whirls them away into the wings, leading them to stumble back with an enormous animal head on. They are also very useful at wheeling on and off an enchanted forest!

All apart from a married man (Ruggiero), who is played and sung by a woman dressed as a man! Alcina throws away their wedding ring, and having turned their wife into a rabbit, proceeds to make like rabbits with the husband. Sexy, body conned, Christian Louboutin heeled and chucking golden glitter around with abandon, Alcina (Lisette Oropesa) relishes turning a godly community into her devoted slaves — one minute they’re happily praying and being married and dancing peacefully; the next grabbed by a sorceress and diabolicked. However — Alcina has reckoned without their preacher.

She has also reckoned without Ruggerio’s wife, who disguises themselves as a man and goes in search of her husband. Meanwhile, Alcina’s sister Morgana (Mary Bevan) is causing her lover Oronte a lot of grief by proceeding to fall in love with the disguised wife. There’s a lot of fun as Morgana teaches the animals and bird servants loafing around a dance routine so that they become her backing dancers! Later on, they do a great minuet too.

Essentially everyone sings about love, the pain of unrequited love and the joy and pleasure of love reciprocated over 3 Acts. But the fun is in the staging and the music. Absolutely beautiful singing and playing, including a stunning violin solo.

Revolt begins - from the greenhouse where Oronto seems to spend a lot of time. He teams up with the preacher to stop Alcina stealing and magicking everyone. Ruggerio is getting jealous (perhaps it’s all the oyster consumption that Alcina keeps making them do) and Alcina works hard to convince them that she is still devoted to them and not using them for her own ends. All the meanwhile, playing fetch with a besotted spaniel headed servant. Ruggerio is hard to convince — when their disguised wife rocks up and does a reveal — similarly alarmed that that Alcina has disguised herself as the wife and can’t be trusted.

Alcina tries to magic the wife to, essentially, get her out of the way. Only she then becomes obsessively in love with Morgana — much to Oronto’s chargrain. Having begun the preacher revolution and got Ruggerio on board with the anti-Alcina campaign, Morgana is rejected when the wife in diguise does a reveal to get back with her husband and then decides that she does want to be with Oronto after all. (I’m not sure why but Ruggerio and wife end up in Scottish dress, with kilts, bonnets and all!) In a funny moment, after initial reluctance, Oronto and Morgana begin to seduce each other in the greenhouse — Oronto turns the greenhouse round for privacy from the audience (!) and then sings about the joys of love in his boxers.

Alcina is furious at Ruggerio — ‘you’ll be sorry’ is essentially her song as she stalks off into the distance, spitting out song. The preacher is ready to stop Alcina— she’s confronted, fails to magic him (or glitter him), handcuffed and marched off to face an angry community court — these people really want to be unenchanted! (Especially the little boy whose dad has been turned into a lion). As the enchanted rebel, Alcina’s magic no longer works. She can no longer glitter any one and Ruggerio smashes the magical perfume bottle aka the cursed urn. This also appears to smash the enchantment (including Alcina and Morgana) to smithereens. After marvelling at their changed appearances, everyone gives up their collections of Alcina items to the preacher’s bin and Oronto realises that no Alcina, means no sister — so he is no longer able to be with Morgana and forlornly slumps in a corner as the godly return to their original partners and start dancing and praying again.

But rather than fully returning to the path and the godly life, Alcina returns with leopard print heels, even more sparkles and replaces their ‘good book’ with the Joy of Sex! An alive and kicking Alcina means Oronto can be with Morgana and ‘all is well’. Alcina has a new perfume and gets everyone passing a kiss down the line! I am sad because the wonderfully bass voiced preacher (who has been such a force to be reckoned with) is pushed off stage without a fight.

As with most operas, the more you try to explain it, the worse it sounds. Go, see, enjoy! Mary Bevan as alluring and charming Alcina lives the role, such as playing fetch with the spaniel — she even has sparkly fishnets and moves from 1940s vamp to glamoursly disheveled and losing her magical powers! (Although a big problem with theft among her animal servants — even the spaniel has a babydoll nightie secured in her mouth!) Emily D’Angelo makes a very convincing Ruggerio — overpowered by Alcina’s flirtations; besotted, angry, jealous and pursued by a loving wife, who they think is Alcina. Rupert Charlesworth as Oronto had a very funny scene with Morgana, which was turned into a fight scene — sung in and out of slammed doors. His singing was heavenly and really put emotion into his acting and singing. The cast of animal heads! The moment when the orchestra paused to enjoy the fun.

I’m not sure about Ruggerio pausing to sing from atop a tree branch, whilst surrounded by slumbering animals. (Although this gave the suggestion of pausing in the journey). The preacher had an amazing voice, hitting those super low notes (and I wanted him to win) as he sought to get his community back from their magical enslavement. However, a nice touch was a piping voiced boy who was looking for his lost dad (the lion). In the interval he was giving out missing handbills (still in character) in the foyer!

Whilst opera has an expensive, elitist and stuffy reputation, this was anything but — vibrant, riotous and a dazzle of the senses. Plus, an awful lot of fun. The music too was wonderfully played and conducted. I loved being so close to the stage to not only appreciate the singing (and the nuances of performance), but what was going on in the wings and the elements of orchestral playing too.

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Susan Tailby

By Susan Tailby. Appreciator of arts and culture; things I've seen and enjoyed and you might too! Reviews all my own opinion....