Friday, December 9, 2022


Opera by George Frideric Handel

Directed by Peter Coleman-Wright

National Opera, Canberra

Llewellyn Hall to December 9


Reviewed by Len Power 8 December 2022


National Opera Canberra’s latest production has a top cast, beautiful singing and music, but is let down by the limited staging.

First performed in London in 1735, it was after her performance in this opera in Venice in 1960 that Dame Joan Sutherland was given the title, ‘La Stupenda’.  It is now some years since it was performed in Australia.

The opera is a fantasy set on an island.  An enchantress, Alcina, has used her magic to create a magnificent palace in a beautiful landscape and lure her many lovers.  Ruggiero, a warrior, has forgotten his past due to Alcina’s spell and abandoned his betrothed, Bradamante.  Disguised as his brother, Ricciardo, Bradamante arrives on the island intending to break the spell with the help of a magic ring.

We become aware that beneath all the fantasy and magic, these are real people with recognizable feelings.  Handel’s music gloriously heightens those emotions.

There was a sudden change of conductor for the production.  Luke Spicer took over the baton and did a magnificent job conducting this intricate score with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra.  The music was played superbly throughout.

The company of 'Alcina'

The strength in this production is the singing by the strong cast.  Emma Matthews is a standout with her singing of the role of Alcina.  Her aria in the second act, ‘Ah, mio cor’, was the highlight of the evening.

 There was the sensitive singing of Russell Harcourt as Ruggiero with the aria, ‘Verdi prati’, and Rachelle Durkin gave a colourful and well-sung performance as Morgana.  John Longmuir as Oronte was spirited and energetic and sang his role very well.  Jud Arthur’s resonant bass gave the character of Melisso an imposing depth.

Emma Matthews (Alcina) and Katrina Wiseman (Oberto)

Katrina Wiseman, in the role of Oberto, delivered an appealing performance as the boy searching for his father.  She sang her role with great assurance.

A last-minute cast change meant that the key role of Bradamante was sung by Cassandra Seidemann with Zsuzsi Sobosia walking the role.  Seidemann sang the role brilliantly.

The staging, limited by the concert venue of Llewellyn Hall, proved difficult for the production team to overcome.  The setting and costumes by Monique Langford were not very interesting and lacked any sense of fantasy and magic.  The principals’ simple gestures and movement often lacked any motivation.  Dance interludes were fine and the chorus sang very well.

An opportunity to hear this not very often performed opera was most welcome.  Apart from the staging, the music and singing by this great cast made the evening memorable.

Photos by Peter Hislop 

Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at