Musically, the 2007 Spoleto Festival recording of Handel’s Ariodate is very good indeed. Unfortunately the production, at least as rendered on DVD, is a bit of a snooze. Director John Pascoe has chosen to set the piece in 1957 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the festival. The court of the king of Scotland is supposed to evoke the “glamour” of the court of the young Elizabeth II. There is also a partially twisted mirror that is supposed to remind us of the deception and self-deception intrinsic to the plot. I only know this because of the bonus interview with Pascoe as video director Matteo Ricchetti completely ignores it. There’s also a recurrent appearance of an image of Ginevra (Handel having fortuitously stumbled upon le nom juste for a character supposed to remind us of Margaret Windsor) framed by the garter ribbon and motto. Subtle. The small Spoleto stage doesn’t allow for much stage action and what we get is a lot of “park and bark”. The duel between Lurcanio and Polinesso might win the award for “least dramatic fight in a baroque opera” and the rescue of Dalinda by Ariodante is equally unmemorable. The king of Scotland does have a rather dramatic pair of trousers in Act 1 though.
It’s a shame that the roduction is so dull because musically this is excellent. Alan Curtis directs Il Complesso Barocco, a band of only 21 musicians including continuo, in a a very crisp reading of the score. He has chosen to use mezzos both for Ariodante and Polinesso (which will cause delight in some quarters I know). Indeed the interview with Curtis is much concerned with the thorny issue of Handel and countertenors. Mr. Curtis is agin them. The two are well contrasted too Mary-Ellen Nei’s dark Polinesso contrasting nicely with Anne Hallenberg’s much brighter toned Ariodante. Both of them can sing, ornament tastefully and, within the limits of the production, act very well. All of this is at least as true of the actual female females. Both Laura Cheric as Ginevra and Marta Vandoni Iorio sing very prettily and both can manage a genuine Handelian trill. Carlo Lrpore overcomes several sets of unfortunate legwear to deliver a solid performance as the king. Only Zachary Stains’ Lurcanio disappoints. I couldn’t tell whether he was strangling his ornamentation or whether it was strangling him but it wasn’t pretty.
The disk package is very decent apart from the dodgy video direction which robs the stage production of what little life it might have. It was filmed in HD and the 16:9 picture is pretty good. The booklet goes on at length about the technology used for the surround sound but it just sounds like a pretty typical Dolby 5.1 track to me. It’s fine. The conductor and director interviews are worth watching. There are (rather sparse) English, French, German, Italian and Spanish subtitles and the booklet has a synopsis, track listing and short essay in English, French, German and Italian.
There are currently only two versions of Ariodante on DVD this one and David Alden’s ENO production. Neither is entirely satisfactory. This one is sung in Italian, has a baroque band and is musically and technically superior. Alden’s is sung in English with a modern orchestra and has some pretty serious technical issues with the disk but is dramatically much more interesting. You pays your money as they say.