An excellent production in Madrid of a Caccini opera from 400 years ago

SpainSpain Francesca Caccini, La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’Isola d’Alcina: Forma Antiqva, Soloists of the Orchestra of the Teatro Real / Aarón Zapico (conductor). Teatros del Canal, Madrid, 7.6.2024. (JMI)

Vivica Genaux (Melissa) © P. Lorente

Director, Sets and Choreography – Blanca Li
Costumes – Juana Martín
Lighting – Pascal Laajili

Melissa – Vivica Genaux
Alcina – Lidia Vinyes-Curtis
Siren / Messenger / A Lady formerly Enchanted – Jone Martínez
Ruggiero – Alberto Robert
Nettuno / Astolfo / Shepherd in Love – Francisco Fernández-Rueda

Forma AntiqvaTeatro Real and Teatros del Canal have jointly staged this opera by Francesca Caccini, the first known opera composed by a woman. The performances are taking place almost on the 400th anniversary of its premiere in Florence in 1625. This ‘opera balletto’ is contemporary with the first known complete opera, Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, which premiered in 1607.

I must thank the Madrid theaters for giving us the opportunity to see La liberazione di Ruggiero, which coincides with Charpentier’s Médée at the Teatro Real. Some seventy years passed between the creation of the two works, and the truth is that I found the Charpentier opera noticeably more elaborate and interesting than the Caccini, which also seems inferior to Monteverdi’s Orfeo.

For this performance, orchestral passages by composers of the time – Cavalieri, Falconieri, Monteverdi and Peri – have been added.

La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’Isola d’Alcina at Teatros del Canal © P. Lorente

The production is by Blanca Li, the artistic director of Teatros del Canal until last year. Her directing was excellent and by far the best part of the entire performance. The sets are minimal, the lighting is outstanding (it plays a prominent role), and Li’s use of extras and of ballet are worth noting. Her work is truly original, a great demonstration of artistic intelligence.

The musical direction was in the hands of Aarón Zapico, a conductor who specializes in ancient and Baroque music. He had the Forma Antiqva ensemble plus soloists from the Teatro Real under his command. It went well but did not compare to William Christie leading Médée the previous day. There is a big difference between what is correct and what is excellent.

The protagonists who give the opera its title are the hero, Ruggiero, and the sorceress, Alcina, from whose spells the former is attempting to escape. Ruggiero was performed by tenor Alberto Robert, who has a fine voice and sang with ease throughout the night. Mezzo-soprano Lidia Vinyes-Curtis as Alcina did not go beyond acceptable – her voice is not remarkable nor is she an outstanding singer.

The best-known member of the cast was mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, whom I have seen on quite a few occasions in recent years. Her voice is still notable, but the volume is lower than desirable – one has the impression that it is a projection problem. The vocal highlight of the cast was Basque soprano Jone Martínez, who was perfect in the characters of Siren, Messenger and a Lady formerly Enchanted.

The performance ran for an hour and 33 minutes with no intermission.

José M. Irurzun

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