Handel, replaced 250 years ago at the King's Theatre in Haymarket by the upstart, Porpora, gathered together some of the finest voices in London at the New Covent Garden Theatre and composed the master-piece "Alcina" for them.
Yesterday at the Kennedy Center, Stephen Simon led the Handel Festival Orchestra and Chorus and a battery of solists in a concert performance of the opera. It is still a hit.
Although without costumes or set, the story is a little hard to follow (with women, for example, singing the role of men disguised as women), the inclusion of the full libretto with the program was an enormous help.
In the title role, soprano Gianna Rolandi warmed up to the cchanging emotions of the spurned goddess-lover, finally succumbing beautifully in the area "Mi-restano."
Florence Quivar was a full-bodied Ruggiero. Nancy Shade as Morgana projected tense anger and concern with equal facility. Mariana Paunova, a contralto with marvelous depth, was a good Bradamante, and Anne Paul Chase sang Oberto's last aria with the finest coloratura of the afternoon.
Ara Berberian was a forthright Melisso and Seth McCoy, the only real Handel Singer of the group, was superb as Orante.
It was a heavier-weight ensemble than is often heard in Handel, but they sang with considerable clarity and agility.
As for past concerts of the Handel Festival series, Simon has groomed his orchestra carefully and they played beautifully for him.