There’s something about Handel’s operas that seems to lend a particularly blank slate to directors. Some of the wackiest takes on opera by the most Regie of the “concept” directors happen in Baroque opera, and Handel’s works get their fair share. That’s not to say that none of these ideas work well, but they sure can be weird.
Handel’s music is nothing but layers of meaning; it’s amazingly detailed, and at the same time, listeners can hear vastly different things. Those listeners include opera directors, a notoriously creative bunch, so anything can happen when it comes to onstage ideas: neon-light Handel, boobs-out-the-whole-show Handel, vaguely-Nazi-like Handel, even bald Handel.
Example A: Bollywood Handel
This is Nireno’s aria from Giulio Cesare, which wasn’t in the original score, but was added later by Handel. Here, it’s sung (and danced!) pretty darn well by Moroccan countertenor Rachid ben Abdeslam. I definitely can’t stop watching.
Example B: Dark Handel
Leave it to Peter Sellars for this one. This is the finale of Theodora, where she and fellow Christian rebel Didymus get their death sentences at the same time. Dawn Upshaw and David Daniels sing their final duet strapped to lethal injection beds, with creepy supers milling around to keep an eye on the equipment.
Example C: Leggy Handel
Noëmi Nadelmann sings Armida’s aria, “Molto voglio, molto spero” from Rinaldo in this production by David Alden for the Bayerische Staatsoper. Or, at least I think she sings it; the legs get distracting.
Example D: Hybrid Handel
Congolese countertenor Serge Kakudji stars in Coup Fatal, a new collaboration with Fabrizio Cassol and Alain Platel. It’s based on concerts that Kakudji began to give, blending operatic arias with traditional African instrumentalists. Here, as part of Coup Fatal, he sings “Stille amare” from Tolomeo; the result is kind of cool.
Example E: Dancing Handel
Jeez, as if Cleopatra didn’t already have enough to do. Natalie Dessay sings Cleopatra’s wicked aria, “Da tempeste” in David McVicar’s production of Giulio Cesare at the Met. I feel like the dancing in itself is kind of cute; I’m not really a fan of the total package, though.
By Jenna Simeonov. Republished with permission from Schmopera.
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