With some of Handel’s most well-known melodies, and a plot full of heroism, love, and witchcraft, Alcina remains as popular with audiences today as it was at its first performance in 1735.
The famous knight Ruggiero has been abducted by a sorceress. His fiancee, Bradamante, is determined to rescue him. Borrowing some of her brother’s clothes, she disguises herself as a soldier and convinces her guardian, Melisso, to sail to the enchanted island where this sorceress lives. But Alcina’s power is incredibly strong.
Ruggiero does not remember his former life, and he does not recognise Bradamante. It is only through the use of a magic ring that Ruggiero is able to see Alcina’s island for what it really is: a desolate wasteland. Everything he has grown to love and know as home has been a lie.
Being reunited with Bradamante strengthens Ruggiero and he is able to defeat Alcina, and her hordes of monsters on the island. He destroys the urn that contains all of her power and the wild beasts and rocks transform back into men; all of Alcina’s former lovers that have been trapped on the island. Wickedness is defeated and true love triumphs.
Opera in 3 acts
Sung in Italian
About 3 hours 10 min + intervals
The background of the opera comes from the poem Orlando Furioso. The heroic knight Ruggiero is destined to a short but glorious life, and a benevolent magician is always whisking him away from the arms of his fiancée, Bradamante. Bradamante is not the type to put up with the constant disappearance of her lover, and she spends vast portions of the poem in full armor chasing after him. Just before the opera begins she has rescued him from an enchanted castle, only to have her flying horse (a hippogriff) take a fancy to Ruggiero and fly off with him. Ruggiero and the hippogriff land on an island in the middle of the ocean. As the hippogriff begins to eat the leaves of a myrtle bush, Ruggiero is startled to hear the bush begin to speak. The bush reveals that it was once a living soul named Sir Astolfo, and the island belongs to the sister sorceresses Alcina and Morgana. The beautiful Alcina seduces every knight that lands on her isle, but soon tires of her lovers and changes them into stones, animals, plants, or anything that strikes her fancy. Despite Astolfo's warning, Ruggiero strides off to meet this sorceress – and falls under her spell.
Bradamante, again searching for her lover, arrives on Alcina's island with Ruggiero's former tutor, Melisso. Dressed in armor, Bradamante looks like a young man and goes by the name of her own brother, Ricciardo. She and Melisso possess a magic ring which enables the wearer to see through illusion, which they plan to use to break Alcina's spells and release her captives.
The first person they meet is the sorceress Morgana. Barely human and with no understanding of true love, she immediately abandons her own lover Oronte for the handsome 'Ricciardo.' Morgana conveys the visitors to Alcina's court, where Bradamante is dismayed to discover that Ruggiero is besotted with Alcina and in a state of complete amnesia about his previous life. Also at Alcina's court is a boy, Oberto, who is looking for his father, Astolfo, who was last seen heading toward this island. Bradamante guesses that Astolfo is now transformed into something, but she holds her peace and concerns herself with Ruggiero. Bradamante and Melisso rebuke Ruggiero for his desertion, but he cannot think of anything except Alcina.
Meanwhile, Oronte discovers that Morgana has fallen in love with 'Ricciardo,' and challenges 'him' to a duel. Morgana stops the fight, but Oronte is in a foul mood and takes it out on Ruggiero. He tells the young man exactly how Alcina treats her former lovers and adds that, as far as he can tell, Alcina has fallen in love with the newcomer, Ricciardo (Semplicetto! A donna credi? Nr. 12). Ruggiero is horrified and overwhelms Alcina with his jealous fury. Things get even worse when 'Ricciardo' enters and pretends to admire Alcina. Alcina calms Ruggiero (Sì, son quella Nr. 13), but Bradamante is so upset at seeing her fiancé wooed before her very eyes that she reveals her true identity to Ruggiero (La bocca vaga, quell'occhio nero Nr. 14). Melisso hastily contradicts her and Ruggiero becomes very confused.
Alcina tells Morgana that she plans to turn Ricciardo into an animal, just to show Ruggiero how much she really loves him. Morgana begs Ricciardo to escape the island and Alcina's clutches, but 'he' says he'd rather stay, as he loves another. Morgana believes that this other person is herself, and the act ends with Morgana's aria "Tornami a vagheggiar". (In some productions, this aria is sung by Alcina.)
Melisso recalls Ruggiero to reason and duty by letting him wear the magic ring: under its influence, Ruggiero sees the island as it really is - a desert, peopled with monsters. Appalled, he realizes he must leave, and sings the famous aria "Verdi prati" ("Green meadows") where he admits that even though he knows the island and Alcina are mere illusion, their beauty will haunt him for the rest of his life.
Melisso warns Ruggiero that he cannot just leave; Alcina still wields immense power, and he should cover his escape by telling her that he wishes to go hunting. Ruggiero agrees, but, thoroughly bewildered by the magic and illusion surrounding him, he refuses to believe his eyes when he at last sees Bradamante as herself, believing that she may be another of Alcina's illusions. Bradamante is in despair, as is Alcina. Convinced of Ruggiero's indifference, she enters to turn Ricciardo into an animal, and Ruggiero has to pull himself together quickly and convince the sorceress that he does not need any proof of her love. It is at this point that the audience realises that Alcina genuinely loves Ruggiero; from now until the end of the opera, she is depicted sympathetically.
Oronte realizes that Ricciardo, Melisso and Ruggiero are in some sort of alliance, and Morgana and Alcina realise they are being deceived. But it is too late: Alcina's powers depend on illusion and, as true love enters her life, her magic powers slip away. As the act ends, Alcina tries to call up evil spirits to stop Ruggiero from leaving her, but her magic fails her.
After this the opera finishes swiftly. Morgana and Oronte try to rebuild their relationship; she returns to him and he rebuffs her but (once she is offstage) admits he loves her still. Ruggiero returns to his proper heroic status and sings an aria accompanied by high horns; Oberto is introduced to a lion, to whom he feels strangely attached, and Alcina sings a desolate aria in which she longs for oblivion.
Bradamante and Ruggiero decide that they need to destroy the source of Alcina's magic, usually represented as an urn. Alcina pleads with them, but Ruggiero is deaf to her appeals and smashes the urn. As he does so, everything is both ruined and restored. Alcina's magic palace crumbles to dust and she and Morgana sink into the ground, but Alcina's lovers are returned to their proper selves. The lion turns into Oberto's father, Astolfo, and other people stumble on, "I was a rock," says one, "I a tree" says another, and "I a wave in the ocean..." All the humans sing of their relief and joy, and Alcina is forgotten.
Alcina – Soprano (lyric coloratura)
Morgana – Soprano (lyric coloratura)
Oberto – Boy soprano
A boy searching for his father
Ruggiero – Mezzo-soprano/Countertenor (lyric)
Bradamante – Contralto
Ruggiero's betrothed, disguised as her own brother, the knight Ricciardo
Oronte – Tenor
Melisso – Bass
Former tutor of Ruggiero
Place of birth: Halle, Germany
Place of death: London, England
George Frideric (or Frederick) Handel, born Georg Friederich Händel was a German, later British, Baroque composer who spent the bulk of his career in London, becoming well known for his operas, oratorios, anthems, concerti grossi and organ concertos. Handel received important training in Halle and worked as a composer in Hamburg and Italy before settling in London in 1712; he became a naturalised British subject in 1727. He was strongly influenced both by the great composers of the Italian Baroque and by the middle-German polyphonic choral tradition. He would become a huge influence on classical composers such as Mozart and Beethoven.
Within fifteen years, Handel had started three commercial opera companies to supply the English nobility with Italian opera. Musicologist Winton Dean writes that his operas show that "Handel was not only a great composer; he was a dramatic genius of the first order." As Alexander's Feast (1736) was well received, Handel made a transition to English choral works. After his success with Messiah (1742) he never composed an Italian opera again. Almost blind, and having lived in England for nearly fifty years, he died in 1759, a respected and rich man. His funeral was given full state honours, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.
Handel is regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era, with works such as Messiah, Water Music, and Music for the Royal Fireworks remaining steadfastly popular. One of his four coronation anthems, Zadok the Priest (1727), composed for the coronation of George II, has been performed at every subsequent British coronation, traditionally during the sovereign's anointing. Another of his English oratorios, Solomon (1748), has also remained popular, with the Sinfonia that opens act 3 (known more commonly as "The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba") featuring at the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony. Handel composed more than forty opera serias in over thirty years, and since the late 1960s, with the revival of baroque music and historically informed musical performance, interest in Handel's operas has grown.
“Learn all there is to learn, and then choose your own path.”
Händel was born the same year as Domenico Scarlatti and Johann Sebastian Bach.
His funeral was a state affair attended by more than 3000 people.
Most prominent operas
The story was originally taken from Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando furioso. The librettist is unknown.
2, 2, 0, 1 - 2, 0, 0, 0
Strings, basso continuo
Alcina premiered at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in London in 1735. It was performed again in Brunswick in 1738 and then fell into oblivion not to be revived until 1928 in Leipzig.
Aria - Tornami a vagheggiar (Morgana)
Aria – Vorrei vendicarmi (Bradamante)
Aria - Ah! Mio cor, schernito sei (Alcina)
Aria – Verdi prati (Ruggiero)
Aria – Sta nell'Ircana pietrosa (Ruggiero)