Saturday, June 23, 2012


ALCINA      New Production
20 June 2012 

* Oper Köln
© Sam H. Shirakawa

More than a meal...

Musikalische Leitung Peter Neumann 
Inszenierung Ingo Kerkhof 
Bühne Anne Neuser 
Kostüme Stephan von Wedel 
Dramaturgie Tanja Fasching 
Licht Nicol Hungsberg

Alcina Claudia Rohrbach 

Ruggiero Franziska Gottwald 
Morgana Anna Palimina 
Bradamante Katrin Wundsam 
Oronte John Heuzenroeder 
Melisso Wolf Matthias Friedrich 
Oberto Adriana Bastidas Gamboa 
Orchester Gürzenich-Orchester Köln 

Okay, I admit it.  I've never been able to follow the plot of Handel’s Alcina, and trying to summarize it in 50 words or less hasn't been made any easier by a monumental distraction now seizing the whole world, except the United States:  the European Soccer Championship Games.

Anyway, here goes...  A young woman named Bradamante, who dresses up as her own brother Ricciardo, goes looking for her missing intended, the knight Ruggiero. She/he lands on an enchanted island ruled by the sorceress Alcina, who has benighted Ruggiero and taken him for her latest lover -- the operative word being ‘latest.’  Seems that Alcina discards stale squeezes, by turning them into animals, trees and waterways, and Ruggero could also suffer the same fate. 
Can Bradamante destroy Alcina’s power and get back her/his man? [86 words, and it doesn't begin to tackle the by-plots. e.g. Alcina's sister Morgana falls for Bradamente/Ricciardo. Oops...]  

Handel (using a text by Antonio Fanzaglia based on Ludovico Ariosto’s "Orlando furioso") portrays Alcina as a lonely, isolated creature, who gains understanding of true love only after she renounces her hold on Ruggiero.  Don’t try following the gnarled vicissitudes that bring Alcina to her breakthrough, because you’d be missing the point -- at least the point I took from Ingo Kerkhof’s new production for Cologne Opera at the Palladium, one of its temporary, smaller venues, while the opera house undergoes a three-year renovation program.  A blessing because the main house is too cavernous to host a work of Alcina’s proportions.

Kerkhof places the action on a dark, sparsely furnished platform whose set changes are mostly indicated by Nicol Hungsberg’s bleak lighting shifts. Stephan von Wedel’s costumes are present-day and gray.  Such paucity of visual color drew me to the bleak suffering all the characters undergo and ultimately led me to a pair of motley conclusions: a> Alcina is about the powerlessness that the power of love predicates and b> it’s about the singing, stupid! 

Claudia Rohrbach, Franziska Gottwald
And what a sing-fest Cologne Opera has assembled!   Handel composed airs and ensembles that pushed his singers to their technical limits, but no challenge is too difficult for this cast.  It’d be odious to pick standouts in this production, because none of the singers sharing the stage can truthfully be said to be better than the others, at least among the women.  So, I’ll cut the Gordian Knot simply by pointing out that Katrin Wundsam (Bradamante) set the vocal standard for her colleagues at the performance I heard, if only because she was the first to appear.  But it would be remiss of me to omit mentioning Claudia Rohrbach, who trumps the vocal acrobatics demanded of Alcina with a soulful “Mi restano le lagrime.”  Franziska Gottwald (Ruggerio) is destined for more trouser roles at international houses, if she doesn't drop her voice into her pants.  Anna Pallmina (Morgana), John Heuzenroeder (Oronte), Wolf Matthias Friedrich (Melisso), and Adriana Bastidas Gamboas (Oberto) rounded out the super cast.

Peter Neumann kept the musical proceedings from slagging with a number of judicious cuts, including most of the dance music.  Instead, the dancing emerged from the energy of the Gürzenich Orchestra -- absent an occasional spare entrance.  The band was pleasantly supplemented by unusual instruments such as a welsh harp and a theorbo, which double intermittently with the pianofortes when they’re not playing individually.

Katrin Wundsam

Cologne Opera’s new production of Alcina is a fitting final premiere of the city’s current lyric season in a time of transition and uncertainty.  The opera is among the last of Handel’s works for the stage.  The public at the time of its premiere (1735) in London was turning away from magickal opera, florid singing and their emasculated artists, so Handel started composing  more oratorios, which proved more practical and lucrative.  One can only hope the Cologne Opera can find practical and lucrative ways of staying in business.

Which brings me to report briefly on an unseemly backstage soap opera now playing out on news stands across Germany.  Cologne Opera's Intendant (General Manager) Uwe Eric Laufenberg has been let go, after he quit publicly, then retracted his resignation, only to be summoned to Cologne's City Hall this past week to be notified that he no longer has a job.  Laufenberg reportedly is now taking the matter to court. 
Gunfight at the O.K.* Corral: Uwe Eric Laufenberg / Georg Quander  
*O.K.=Oper Köln
When a marriage goes on the rocks, as Big Mama in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof might say: the rocks are right there in the bottom line.  Laufenberg's resignation several months ago was reportedly precipitated by massive cuts in Cologne's budget for the arts in up-coming seasons. This devolved into a gunfight in the press, in which Laufeberg attacked his boss Georg Quander, Cologne's Culture Czar.  Drama reigned at a press conference, which Laufenberg was "unable" to carry out, because he had "refused" to complete the list of presentations for next season.

Now that Laufenberg is at liberty, three productions (Le Nozze di Figaro, Così fan tutte, Parsifal) he was to produce will be reassigned or dropped.  On top of that, Laufenberg, who is also an actor of some note, was set to appear in his own production of My Fair Lady.  While he offered to fulfill the engagement, the offer was turned down. 

At the moment, Quander appears to have had the final word, although the courts ultimately could favor Laufenberg in some way.  But Quander's impressive background in broadcasting has surely qualified him to engage in political battles of quasi-Vatican proportions.  And prevail. 

Who is the big loser in this teutonic vision of street theater?  The same loser in any culture: the audience. 

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At 6/24/2012 9:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ausgezeichnet!! Schoner Artikel! Die Besetzung ist ein Wunder!


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