From ex-lovers transformed into animals to magical rings, from collapsing mountains to palaces that appear out of thin air – there is no doubt that Alcina has mastered the standard repertoire of a sorceress. In her kingdom she entrances and abandons men as the mood takes her, scoffing traditional morals and institutions such as marriage. Her adversary, Bradamante, has set off in disguise to free her lover Ruggiero, who has fallen under Alcina’s spell. Together, Bradamante and Ruggiero return to a more conventional bourgeois existence whilst Alcina’s magical realm crumbles into dust.
This late work, premiered in Covent Garden in 1735, contains some of Georg Friedrich Händel’s most beautiful arias. They clearly present the conflicting emotions of the characters, their confusion as to whether they should trust their perceptions and their hearts. In his music Händel, too, goes above and beyond the simplistic black-and-white narration of the libretto: Alcina, the self-centred sorceress, becomes a woman of passion whose love is eventually frustrated both by her own demands and social pressures. In the end the demise of her magical realm, a world of desire and fantasy, is not only regarded as a liberation, but also a sad loss.
Bradamante’s husband Ruggiero has left her. She believes he has fallen for the sorceress Alcina. Bradamante, therefore, disguises herself as her brother Ricciardo and sets off with her confidant Melisso to rescue Ruggiero. In Alcina’s realm, they encounter Morgana, Alcina’s sister who immediately falls in love with the supposed Ricciardo. Surrounded by her admirers, Alcina welcomes the visitors and asks Ruggiero to tell Ricciardo and Melisso about their very great love for each other and the places where they have indulged their love to the full. A sorrowful young boy, Oberto, asks them to help him search for his father who has disappeared in Alcina’s realm. Disguised as Ricciardo, Bradamante speaks to Ruggiero and reminds him of his wife but Ruggiero wishes to know nothing more of his previous life. He is only interested in Alcina. Morgana’s friend Oronte accuses Ricciardo of wanting to steal Morgana, whom he loves, from him. Oronte and Morgana argue. Morgana tries to approach Ricciardo by making a speech on the nature of love and jealousy. In order to rid himself of his supposed rival, Oronte tells Ruggiero that Alcina is having an affair with Ricciardo. Alcina is shocked when she learns of Ruggiero’s doubts. Melisso interrupts any further exchange of words between Ruggiero and Ricciardo before Ricciardo reveals ‘himself’ to be Bradamante. To placate Ruggiero, Ricciardo says he is in love with Morgana and therefore awakes in the overjoyed Morgana false expectations.
Melisso succeeds in making Ruggiero call to mind his previous life with Bradamente. When Ruggiero then encounters his wife, he is overwhelmed by the situation and suspects she is one of Alcina’s illusions. Deeply hurt, Bradamante threatens to take revenge.
Oronte has discovered Bradamante’s identity but Morgana who is in love does not believe him. Ruggiero continues to doubt his own perception. He can no longer differentiate between reality and imagination. Oronte reveals to Alcina, that Ruggiero is planning to escape with Bradamante and Melisso. Alcina’s fear that she may lose Ruggiero plunges her into fear and doubt which she resists one last time by wielding power and self-assertion. Full of optimism, however, Bradamante believes she has achieved her aim. Ruggiero perceives the transient nature of Alcina’s realm and bids farewell to it. Alcina has to realise that she has lost her magic powers. Oronte claims that he loves another woman. Morgana suspects that this is an attempt to make her jealous. She declares her love for Oronte and her pain. Oronte remembers their shared past. Confronting Alcina directly, Ruggiero confesses that he is going to leave her. Alcina’s furious rage is proof for Melisso and Bradamante that they have to render Alcina harmless. Full of self-confidence, Ruggiero celebrates his planned return to the bourgeois world. Melisso tells Oberto to murder Alcina but she turns his anger on one of her admirers. Oberto, however, recognises in him his enchanted father. Alcina insistently warns Ruggiero and Bradamante of the fate facing them but Ruggiero is forced to destroy Alcina’s realm.
Jan Philipp Gloger
Generously supported by the Stiftung Semperoper – Förderstiftung