Nobody Said Opera Has To Be Nice

St. Pete Opera gets a Handel on
New Production to Open its Season

October 13, 15 & 17
Palladium Theater
Details here

Nobody said opera has to be nice.

In fact, it can be downright nasty, even back in the day when people were civil. Case in point is George Frideric Handel’s Alcina, which opens the St. Pete Opera’s new season this weekend at downtown St. Pete’s Palladium Theater.

The character Alcina was a badass, and not the kind of woman any reasonable guy would want to date. But lots of unreasonable guys did, and they paid the price.

Just look around her private island, where hundreds of former boyfriends were used, abused and discarded like cigarette butts. A sorceress, she turned all these unfortunate souls into wild beasts, bushes and boulders − or whatever she fancied.

But the St. Pete Opera will go easy on her, says general director and conductor Mark Sforzini.

“In our production, Alcina only turns people into animals,’’ he says. “No rocks or trees.’’

That’s a relief, because rocks and trees can’t sing, but in opera, animals certainly can.

Mark Sforzini conducting

Aside from these magical transformations, the company stages this rarely performed gem – only the second Handel opera in its 17 seasons − then offers more popular fare with Puccini’s Turandot in March and Donizetti’s Lucia de Lammermoor in June.

But Handel seems to be taking off for this small but tenacious company.

“The success of our production of (Handel’s) Semele last season brought lots of audience enthusiasm for Handel, and the Palladium Theater proved to be an ideal setting for baroque opera,’’ Sforzini says.

“I’m planning to continue doing a baroque opera every two or three years, and next up will be Handel’s Giulio Cesare.’

First performed in 1735, Alcina is a three-act allegorical fantasy, and rich in spectacle – vibrant dance sequences, soaring choruses and lush singing by the principals. The title character lives on an enchanted island where she vanquishes lovers that bore her.

However, she falls in love with a knight named Ruggiero and detains him on her island as a prospective husband.

But Ruggiero already has a girlfriend, Bradamante, who comes to the island to rescue him, disguised as a man she calls Ricciardo. When Alcina’s sister, Morgana, falls for Ricciardo, things get complicated. The opera’s five main characters all seem to be falling in love with each other, often under the influence of a magic spell, so it’s hard to keep up with the carousel of dalliances.

“At its core, this is a story about love and wanting to be loved and wanting to be powerful,’’ adds Sforzini.

“In comic book stories, we often get the backstory on why the villain became the villain. Although we aren’t privy to Alcina’s backstory, we feel that it’s there, and each of her arias explores a distinctly different aspect of her character and range of emotions.’’

Opera in Handel’s time was a lengthy affair, but most modern productions make adjustments to keep the storylines digestible. This new Alcina is no exception.

“Although we cut some of the choruses, we kept some of them, too, and have dancers as well so we’re being authentic to Handel’s sentiment at the time,’’ Sforzini says. “We also decided to take only one intermission in the middle of the original second act. So, we’re presenting it in two chunks instead of three, and this will keep the evening moving along.’’

Paul Wilborn, the Palladium’s executive director, says St. Pete Opera was born on its stage 17 years ago and has been so successful that he designs seasons around their performance dates.

“But more than that, the quality of the productions is exceptional,’’ he says. “It’s been a real pleasure for me to watch the company grow and thrive.’’


St. Pete Opera – Alcina
Friday October 13 at 8 pm
Sunday October 15 at 2 pm
Tuesday October 17 at 7:30 pm
Palladium Theater, 253 5th Ave. N.
St Petersburg FL 33701
You can find ticket information here

Alexandra Batsios sings the title role in Handel’s Alcina at the St Pete Opera – photo by Jarrett Haas

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