Israeli Opera produces a baroque masterpiece in Alcina production - review

During the performance I attended, there was no doubt the audience was completely smitten with this charming and bold version of Morgana.

 ANAT CZARNY as Bradamante and Hila Fahima as Morgana in Alcina. (photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)
ANAT CZARNY as Bradamante and Hila Fahima as Morgana in Alcina.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)

An unconscious biker (Vince Yi as Ruggiero) is brought inside a glass mansion where he is transformed by a witch (Yael Levita as Alcina) into a ready-made lover boy. His biker pal Melisso (Oded Reich) and girlfriend Bradmante (Anat Czarny) come after him. Switchblade knives and guns are pulled against mystic smoke and flames as two forces compete for dominance.

These are the bare bones of the exciting new adaptation director Ido Ricklin gave Handel’s Alcina, now presented by the Israeli Opera for only a few performances. Levita and Hila Fahima-Ruschin (Morgana, Alcina’s sister) shine respectively in this imaginative production.

Alcina knows that while her love for Ruggiero is genuine, his love for her depended on spells. When Levit sings her heart remains the same the words take on a sinister meaning, as she dabs her fingers in the magic water and touches Ruggiero’s face to restore his adoration of her. She herself, the aria informs us, is unable to change – and knows it.

Unable to release Ruggiero and risk emotional pain, Levit wins over our hearts in an emotionally stunning performance of “Ah! Ruggiero crude!” She calls upon the dark forces – cieche figlie crudeli, a me venite! [blind cruel daughters, come to me!] – which once helped her transform treacherous lovers to stones or beasts, only to be met with silence.

The betrayal is total, Ruggiero leaves, the magic vanishes and her sister departs with the servants – Levita carries the emotional weight of the title role with incredible talent. Like many people unable to stop the cycle of abuse, she wishes to receive the punishment she handed to others and turn to stone rather than face the painful reality of not being loved anymore.

 YAEL LEVITA in the role of Alcina with Yi Vince as Ruggiero. (credit: Michael Topiol) YAEL LEVITA in the role of Alcina with Yi Vince as Ruggiero. (credit: Michael Topiol)

Fahima, on the other hand, is able to deal with the world as is. Thanks to an inspired performance by her own lover, Oronte (Eitan Drori), she is able to display the full emotional range of a healthy adult person.

She flirts (with Czarny, who pretends to be a man) and demands the right to love as she pleases. Faced with that romance coming to an end, she is able to come to term with it and make amends with Oronte. In this scene, too, Ricklin deserves ovations for the way he employs a stage gimmick (Oronte opens and reopens his luggage to discover smaller and tinier satchels) until the surprise ending. During the performance I attended, there was no doubt the audience was completely smitten with this charming and bold version of Morgana.

REICH ALSO deserves compliments for his fantastic portrayal of a biker, down to beer swilling and knife pulling. His baritone meshes well with Yi’s counter tenor and his supporting character is essential for the smooth progression of the entire opera.

Yet, it is Czarny who shines as a biker in her own right. When Katarina Bradic played Bradmante and sang “È gelosia” (It is Jealousy) during a 2015 production of Alcina at Festival d’Aix en Provence, director Andrea Marcon had Morgana rescue her from Oronte. Czarny takes out a pistol and rescues herself.

It is to her immense credit she is able to do so, while also making us realize she sees how Oronte, in his rage, mirrors her own grief and anger over Ruggiero.

The terrific singers selected for this production are well served by movement designer Yiftach Mizrahi and conductor Ethan Schemisser. The dancers for this production are as magical as the magic water Alcina uses. Becoming blond sex bombs for a deeply funny performance of “Semplicetto!” (You Fool! To Trust a Woman?), returning as mirror images of Bradamante for a confused Ruggiero or serving maids and grieving the broken heart of their enchantress mistress Alcina.

In a staging influenced by an artistic decision to place Alcina in a film noir sort of world, with Alcina refusing to face the changing of time and using all her might to live a make-believe life where card games and in-doors delights replace leaving the glass house with its servants and going for a hunt – it is rewarding to see translator Israel Ouval made a contribution, as well. When Morgana asks Oronte where his commitment to her is, he replies: “Gone with the Wind.”

‘Alcina’ by Handel at the Israel Opera. Friday (May 27) at 1 p.m. Saturday (May 28) at 9 p.m. and Monday (May 30) at 8 p.m. Sung in Italian, with English and Hebrew subtitles. Tickets range from NIS 195 to NIS 320. The dancers are: Ruth Aharony, Yael Cohen, Nophar Levinger and Nitzan Nissimov.

For more information, visit www.israel-opera.co.il/eng/ or call 03-692-7777. The Israeli Opera is at 19 King Saul Boulevard, Tel Aviv.