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Handel: Alcina DVD

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Produced with the cast of a year-2000 Stuttgart stage version, this performance of Handel's 1735 opera Alcina has been specially shot for home viewing without the audience present (though applause is heard during the closing credits). Director Janos Darvas enhances the usual low theatre illumination with stronger television-friendly lighting to provide more detail, and he also takes his cameras much closer to the artists than live performance permits, offering film-style close-ups that greatly enhance the drama. With just eight performers and an essentially static set--though some intriguing interesting things are done with a large "mirror"--this intimate approach proves an enormous advantage. Handel's complex tale of intense romantic entanglement on the island of the enchantress Alcina focuses as much on high-voltage acting as powerful music-making. The 20th-century costumes are initially disconcerting, but soon become part of a psychologically intense world where time seems out of joint and charged with otherwise-unimaginable emotional possibilities. As Alcina, Catherine Naglestad gives an extraordinary performance, both strikingly passionate and deeply sensual, her revealing costuming being just the most obvious sign of a production intent on the erotic. Though Naglestad dominates, each performer offers memorable characterisation and fine singing. On the DVD: Alcina comes to disc with an anamorphically enhanced 16:9 picture that is clear and detailed, while the PCM stereo audio is natural and is recorded with good presence. Other than various optional subtitles, including English, extras are entirely absent. Within the booklet is a brief biography of Handel, background notes on Alcina and a synopsis, but nothing on the artists or performance. --Gary S Dalkin

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