Hardly the most scintillating production — actually it could easily be deathly dull, except that it isn’t, because it’s peopled by a clutch of fascinating singers. And I know it’s trendy to scoff at baroque opera where the singers are dressed as if they’re singing baroque opera, and to profess one’s inability to take such people seriously but perhaps I am an old fashioned girl at heart. I didn’t find this laughable. It seemed to me that the point of it all was not to convince us that Ariodante is a ripping yarn or (that vile word) relevant in some deep and meaningful way to contemporary society, or any of that; but rather, to celebrate the one aspect of the opera which remains utterly captivating — the music. If I’m right about that, then it achieved its purpose; this was a pretty fabulous tribute to Handel.
Ruth Ann Swenson totally bowled me over. And I am somebody who already loved her dearly. But my attachment to Ruth Ann has always been at root an emotional one. I loved her for the part she’s played in my musical life and because she has always seemed adorable; and I’ve loved listening to her, but have never gone exactly mad for the voice in and of itself. I also had essentially no idea what to expect from Ruth Ann in a live situation.
She was sublime. She was more than it even occured to me to hope for. Recordings aren’t a patch on the loveliness of her voice in person and she radiates sweetness and light. I could have watched her and listened to her forever. Stunningly beautiful in every respect. And yes, my emotional attachment to her colours that view a bit, but even if she’d been totally new to me, she’d be getting a rave here. I just wish I could be there on July 6th, to clap my hands raw when she’s awarded her San Francisco Opera Medal. Ruth Ann deserves every accolade going.
And as if she weren’t enough — Susan Graham! I knew she was good, but for whatever reason I’ve never become a proper fan. She was, of course, totally stunning as Ariodante. Stunning in a more objective sense than Ruth Ann, too. Susan sang the living daylights out of this role; it was a total triumph. I appreciated the sheer gorgeousness of her voice more than I have before, and revelled in the thrills and spills of all that terribly heroic coloratura. Plenty of fun ornamentation, too; a lot of it showing off her rather impressive upper register — not the most obviously masculine sound, but who cares? Fabulous is fabulous. Her “Scherza infida” is something to treasure.
Just before the curtain went up, I heard a man behind me say to his companion: “I like her already — she looks like Eddie Izzard.” Which cracked me up, because I knew immediately he meant Sonia Prina, and he was completely right:
Although in her stage beard, she looked less like Eddie and a whole lot more like TAFKAP. I still wish I could have heard Earth Mother Ewa Podles as Polinesso, but never mind. Sonia is a different brand of contralto, her voice is edgier and more compact. Sometimes a bit too metallic for my tastes but all in all an appealing villain. Although I was a bit troubled by what seemed an idiosyncratic approach to passages of rapid fire coloratura; her runs emerging in a sort of violently staccato Morse Code. Then again, she was expressing rage, so that’s possibly fair enough. Anyway, the important point for readers in this hemisphere is that I think we can look forward to an excellent Orlando from her in August. I wonder if she’ll have another Princely beard.
Veronica Cangemi was weirdly appealing as Dalinda. She grew on me. Well no, actually, I liked her immediately but then her first aria didn’t quite live up to the silvery appeal of her recitative. But as the night progressed she got more impressive and her whole performance had that sort of neurotic charm that I tend to like. Her mad scene — complete with lightning on cue! — was wonderful. The more I think about her, the more I like her in retrospect. I bet she’d be a lot of fun as Atalanta in Xerxes.
I only realised afterwards that two of the cast of this Ariodante also appear on the Minkowski recording of same. Veronica’s there, and so is Richard Croft. With Ewa it would have been three. Richard Croft, incidentally, sounds so good in this role he’s almost a guilty pleasure. Handel tenors (a little like Mozart tenors) can be a bit negligible but there’s usually opportunity for a spot or two of knee-weakening — he takes full advantage. To think this man was not long ago roaming the Met in a sheet as Gandhi in Satyagraha. Which, come to think of it, means that every Handel opera I see this year will contain a member of that Satyagraha cast, since Rachelle Durkin, OA’s Angelica, sang Miss Schlesen opposite Croft.
The other boys — Eric Owens as the King of Scotland, Andrew Bidlack as Odoardo — weren’t quite so swoonworthy, but still, enjoyable. Particularly Owens, who exuded a Sarastro-like air of wise nobility, even if he was a bit mean to his darling daughter.
But oh, Ruth Ann. And oh, Susan. Beautiful apart, bliss as a couple — they, and their voices, are very well-suited indeed. Their duets were among the highlights of the opera. My favourite moment, though, was Ruth Ann’s tour de force in Act II, a mad scene of sorts where the laughing girlishness of Act I gave way to a darker, more emotionally complex portrayal and where I hung upon her every delectable note. Four years ago I went to New York. I was supposed to see Ruth Ann then, but she cancelled. I’m happy to say now that she was well and truly worth the wait.