English National Opera specialises in operas in translation. One might imagine that the invention of surtitles in the opera house and subtitles on films would render it obsolete, but apparently not. Here we have an opera that Handel wrote in Italian for the English stage, but which is stubbornly translated into English in this ENO version. Fortunately the translation, by Amanda Holden, is excellent. Also the singers' enunciation is so good that the listener can understand about 90% of what is sung, quite a feat in any opera. Furthermore, in this film, each scene is preceded by a caption explaining what is going to happen next, presumably for the benefit of deaf opera-lovers.
Handel's operas are a challenge to modern audiences, classical themes, da capo arias, few duets or larger ensembles, the best parts written for castrati. They are also a challenge to the director who needs to recreate the excitement and spectacle of these pieces as they were performed on the 18th century stage. We have all seen enough of Così Fan Tutte set in a lap dancing club or Don Giovanni set in a public lavatory but a piece like Ariodante really does need a director to impose his own concept on it. This David Alden, the stage director, fails to do. What he gives us is a traditionally set, traditionally dressed, fairly uninteresting rendition of the action.
Ann Murray as Ariodante wears a suit of armour that features a large breastplate and drainpipe trousers so that she looks like a funky chicken. She sings the role well, only in the more ornate passages that do not roll easily off the tongue in English does she look and sound as though she is about to lay an egg. The other castrato role is sung by Christopher Robson as Polinesso. I sometimes have difficulty with men singing castrato parts because the voice does not match the body. I found that if I closed my eyes and kept my legs crossed he sounded quite pleasant. The best performances come from men playing men and women playing women. Gwynne Howell as the king of Scotland, Joan Rogers as Ginevra and Paul Nilon as Lurcanio are all excellent. Lesley Garrett as Dalinda is outstanding vocally and also acts everyone else off the stage. These days she is a cross-over diva which, in some ways, is a pity given her undoubted operatic ability.
Handel inserted a number of ballet scenes into this opera to add spectacle but, in this film, the dance of the zombies and the gratuitous incest and nudity are a mistake, as is the spaceship in act II.
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