It's been probably 25 years since the last time I visited Brevard.  Inge was still teaching there in the summers, and I was young and foolish enough to slide down Sliding Rock.  I'm not sure that I ever saw an opera there, and when I realized that they were doing Alcina, getting myself there was more about seeing a Handel opera that I've never seen than really having high expectations.  Well, no matter how high my expectations might have been, they would have been justified by the production we saw.  If the performance we saw were not the last of this production, I'd say, like Bill Bryson about Durham Cathedral, "Go, go now!  Take my car!!"

At first we were worried.  The show was being done in the small black box theater on the college campus.  There were six chairs and two electronic keyboards for the orchestra.  The opera director came out to tell us that the conductor was also the director, which rarely is a good thing.  Then the cast came out to do tai chi exercises before the opera, and they were all dressed like characters in a Japanese anime. 

All these things turned out to be really excellent ideas.  Canadian Patrick Hansen did a fabulous job of conducting from one of the keyboards, and the direction was brilliant.  Keyboards when set for harpsichord actually are kind of nice in that they don't have the tuning issues that the real instruments have.  Occasionally Hansen would set his keyboard to sound like a theorbo, which it did convincingly enough to make me look around for the theorbo player.  The other keyboard was also set for harpsichord to play in the orchestral parts; Hansen played the recitatives.  With a string quartet and two oboes, the score did not suffer a bit, and the sound was quite full enough both for the room and for the young voices.  I heard exactly three wrong notes in the entire nearly 3 hours of playing.  Bravo to them all!

The direction took advantage of the stylized look of Japanese theater without trying to be authentically Japanese.  Using the fantastic look for a fantasy opera made great sense.  The set was simple relying mostly on three fabric panels, twenty paper moon lanterns, and a slanted trapezoidal platform in the center to allow for variation of the levels onstage.  Very effective lighting was designed by Joe Hodge.  Because the room is small, sometimes the action was happening within a yard of the audience or the oboists' backs.  The opera requires that trees and animals be changed back into people at the end of the show, and Hansen envisioned the trees as several very fit young men wearing hakama, body paint and twigs from trees on their fingers.  Using these "trees" opened up possibilities for stylish movement to fill up some of the non-singing moments.

The singing was magnificent from the two sopranos, Melinda Whittington as Alcina and Emily Brand as Morgana, and very good from the two mezzos, Christina English as Ruggiero and Grace Newberry as Bradamante.  Melinda Whittington is a name to remember.  Her voice had the size, the quality, the legato, the flexibility, and the passionate intensity that the role requires.  Emily Brand's coloratura was stunning though the quality of the voice was not quite as glamorous.  Elise Jabrow and Garry McLinn both did very good work, though McLinn sounded a bit sung out on his high notes.

The entire production was a wonderful addition to my collection of baroque operas that I've heard or sung.  The one that I sang back in the late 70's was Orfeo, and that was a tale of woe for another blog.  Let me just say that the orchestra parts and vocal scores did not match.  Woe and sorrow indeed!  The other Handel opera that I've seen was Rodelinda at the Met with Renee Fleming.  Oh yes, that was the other good one.  Two out of three is not bad, so I'll keep on taking opportunities to hear every one that I can get to. 

One more thing I want to learn about this production is what edition they used.  On the stands it looked like an academic product that may not have been published.  Yes, I peeked.  I thought it was very tight and extremely dramatic, so I hope it goes on to many future performances.