As of this year, Cecilia Bartoli takes over the role of director of Monte-Carlo Opera – the first woman to hold this position in the history of this opera house.
Ms Bartoli also stars in Handel’s Alcina, the first production by Monte-Carlo Opera of this new year. With direction by multi-award-winning Christof Loy, this co-production with Zurich Opera also features Philippe Jaroussky as the valiant knight Ruggiero, Sandrine Piau as Alcina’s sister Morgana, Varduhi Abrahamyan as Ruggiero’s fiancée Bradamante, Maxim Mironov as Oronte, the leader of Alcina’s army, and Péter Kálmán as Melisso, Bradamante’s guardian. Les Musiciens du Prince-Monaco are led by Gianluca Capuano, principal conductor of the ensemble since 2019.
Georg Friedrich Handel wrote this three-act work of magic, music and dance in 1735 for his new company which was based at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden (now the Royal Opera House), collaborating with producer John Rich – renowned for his spectacular productions. The writer of the libretto is unknown, but the story is based on Riccardo Broschi’s 1728 opera L’Isola d’Alcina, inspired by characters and stories from Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso. Alcina premiered at Covent Garden on 16th April, 1735.
The original opera is set on a magical island belonging to Alcina – a beautiful but dangerous enchantress who seduces every man that lands there, and transforms them into rocks or wild animals when she has grown tired of them. In an interesting twist, however, director Christof Loy, whose previous production of Ariodante was seen on the Monegasque stage in 2019, has transformed Alcina’s magical kingdom into a theatre, so in this theatre within a theatre, Bartoli is both the character of Alcina and also the diva.
The story revolves around Bradamante’s arrival at Alcina’s empire to search for her husband, Ruggiero, who has fallen for Alcina’s charms. Bradamante has disguised herself as her twin brother ‘Ricciardo’ and as such attracts Alcina’s sister Morgana, who already has a relationship with Oronte. Ultimately, Ruggiero sees Alcina for what she is, reunites with his wife, and Morgana is reconciled to Oronte. In order to prove his heroism, Bradamante expects Ruggiero to destroy Alcina and her kingdom, and the realm of beauty, sensuality, illusion and poetry subsequently falls. But Alcina is a fairy, and fairies cannot die.
Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli has come to be regarded as one of the world’s leading classical music artists. Over her 30-year career, she has appeared in major opera houses, concert venues and festivals throughout North America, Europe, the Far East and Australia, has made numerous successful recordings, created spectacular stage events, films and multimedia events. She has served as artistic director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival since 2012, and also founded her period-instrument orchestra Les Musicians du Prince-Monaco in 2016, with the patronage of HSH Prince Albert II and HRH Caroline the Princess of Hanover.
Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky has explored a wide-ranging Baroque repertoire from Monteverdi to Handel and Vivaldi, having in recent years sung more music by Vivaldi than anyone else. Well-known period ensembles with whom he has worked include Les Arts florissant, Les Musiciens du Louvre and Europa Galante. In 2002 Mr Jaroussky founded Ensemble Artaserse, named after the Vinci opera Artaserse which he revived, and in which he participated, as one of five countertenors in the cast.
French soprano Sandrine Piau is well-known as an exponent of Baroque music, and has also performed a wide range of operatic roles. Among these are Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare and Morgana at the Opéra de Paris, Dalinda in Handel’s Ariodante at the Salzburg Festival and in Amsterdam, Soeur Constance in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites at La Monnaie in Brussels and at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. In recital, one of Ms Piau’s most recent appearances was in Mozart’s Requiem at both the Wiener Festwochen and La Monnaie.
Last season, Franco-Armenian mezzo-soprano Varduhi Abrahamyan returned to the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich in the title role in Bizet’s Carmen, debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in both Verdi’s Rigoletto and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, appeared in Verdi’s Don Carlo at the Marseille Opera and in the title role of Bellini’s Norma at Gran Theatre del Liceu in Barcelona. Her concert performances include appearances in Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with Cecilia Bartoli in Martigny and Lugano. This season, Ms Abrahamyan debuts at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in Alcina and at Naples’ Teatro di San Carlo in Wagner’s Die Walküre and Rossini’s Maometto II.
Russian-born Maxim Mironov is regarded as one of the best bel canto tenors today. He has appeared in many of the most prestigious opera houses in the United Kingdom and Europe, and in the USA he debuted at Los Angeles Opera in Rossini’s Il turco in Italia and sang the role of Ramiro in Rossini’s La Cenerentola with Washington National Opera. Known for his Rossini roles, he received high acclaim at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro in 2018, and at La Scala, Milan, the following year.
Hungarian bass-baritone Péter Kálmán is highly regarded for his portrayals in the Italian ‘buffo’ tradition, as well as in dramatic roles in operas by Bartók, Richard Strauss and Wagner. He has appeared with some of the world’s finest conductors, and recent highlights in his career include performances as Don Magnifico in La Cenerentola at Seattle Opera, in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro at Glyndebourne, Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, and in Norma in a cast anchored by Cecilia Bartoli in Paris, Baden-Baden and Monte-Carlo.
Handel’s Alcina is presented at the Monte-Carlo Opera from 20th to 26th January. Tickets may be reserved on this link and further information is available on the Monte-Carlo Opera website, where detailed information on the cast and creatives is also to be found.
This article first appeared in ArtsPreview.
Lead image © Monika Rittershaus and courtesy Opéra de Monte-Carlo