Ariodante is the last item in the Handel opera series presented in Braunschweig (among other stations in Europe) with Il Complesso Barocco and Alan Curtis. With Joyce DiDonato in the title role, this was probably its most sought-after concert – and one can easily imagine how disappointed the audience felt when they learned the news of her cancelling the whole tournée. In her place, it was announced the name of Caitlin Hulcup, whom I had previously seen as a charming Meg in Verdi’s Falstaff – I know, hardly information enough to gauge how efficient she could be in one of Handel’s most difficult primo uomo roles. In retrospect, I can say that I am almost happy that I had the opportunity of hearing a bit more from this Australian mezzo-soprano. To start with, her tone can be so reminiscent of Lorraine Hunt’s that one cannot help but developing a favorable disposition, especially in this role in which this late Handelian singer was something of a reference. Even if Hulcup has a less consistently solid low register, her clear and fluent coloratura, crystalline diction, stylish phrasing and dramatic commitment procure her a prominent place in this repertoire. I would say her direct, dense and noble Scherza, infida is one of the best I have ever heard, live or in recordings. She was ideally matched by Karina Gauvin’s rich-toned, fluent, expressive and regal Ginevra. Sabina Puértolas has a pleasant, sensuous voice, but her high register is somewhat taut and her diction can be improved (her Italian has a touch of the other Mediterranean peninsula), but she could make something more interesting of Dalinda than what I am used to see. Nicholas Phan finds Lurcanio’s tessitura a bit uncongenial and would have to wait for his duet with the soprano to shine in his dulcet mezza voce. The role of the King of Scotland is a bit low for Matthew Brook too and yet he sang nobly and expressively. Then there is Marie-Nicole Lemieux. While I admire her spirit and energy, this is no replacement for proper technique. The plethora of antics, register inconsistencies and approximative fioritura often veered in the grotesque, and this is not what Handel wanted in this role.
I often find Alan Curtis a conductor more concerned about warm, beautiful orchestral sound and gracious rhythms – and so he showed himself in the first part of the evening. After the intermission, though, the proceedings increasingly gained in impetus, in theatricality and in panache. By the end, it was quite a gripping performance. The orchestra had no small share of responsibility there – they often reacted to the singers in a very organic and effective way. I would say that this was more compelling than the recording released by Virgin Classics (if not as exciting as Marc Minkowski’s for Deutsche Grammophon). The edition performed tonight was sadly heavily cut – not so much in the sense of deleted numbers (Dalinda’s Il primo ardor, maybe the King’s Al sen ti stringo…), but in the deletion of the B section and repeats in a great deal of numbers – most unforgivably the lovely duet Bramo aver mille vite. It may be my imagination, but I had the impression that Ariodante’s Con l’ali di costanza showed some discrepancies to what I am used to hear.