REVIEW: Opera Converse Theatre’s ALCINA is ‘Frozen’ Baroque-Style

Handel’s Mystical Opera Blows the Roof off Daniel Hall’s Ice Palace

ALCINA at Opera Converse Theatre. Photo by Escobar Photography. LLC


If you have ever attended a performance at Daniel Recital Hall at Converse College, you should be well-acclimated to the glorious acoustics and the mighty and imposing pipes from the house organ on the second floor balcony.

But I guarantee you have never experienced the hall under the magical guise of “Alcina” and her frigid glacier kingdom (think Disney’s “Frozen” live with more demanding music) in Opera Converse Theatre’s ambitious full-scale mounting of Handel’s mystical fantasy opera.

Don’t miss this epic and lavish production directed by Opera Converse’s Jenna Tamisiea Elser (co-founder or Glow Lyric Theatre) with music direction by Keith Jones, and the magnificent transformation of Daniel Recital Hall as you’ve never seen it before with an ice crystal kingdom created by USC Upstate professor and scenic designer Barry Whitfield, magnificent and effect lighting effects by Dakota Adams (14 exploding 6-foot crystals!), and a cacophony of an action score by Emerald Pham. 

And I have not even mentioned the enchanting cast!

“Alcina” is the epitome of Baroque with clean, cheery melodies and the sweet churning of the continuo, oboe and strings (under direction of conductor Keith Jones).

This early opera, as typical of the genre and period, is primarily scenes of bouncy solos of secco recitatives and de capo arias. There is but a single trio ensemble aria and a couple of Chorus numbers, but Handel an abundance of dance and movement opportunities for the chorus members.

With a libretto by Antonio Fanzaglia and an ultra-modern English translation by Amanda Holden, Alcina is a sorceress (an exquisite commanding soprano Sarah Jane Gibbs alternating with Natalie Longobardo) with a seductive lure irresistible to any man. In fact, she has an entire frozen island of creatures that used to be her human lovers before encountering Alcina. She has cast a spell on the soldier Ruggiero too (Sherami Harris, in a honed, brave performance) who worships the Queen.

But his fiancée Bradamante (Shannon Longobardo/Erin Bradley) disguised as her own brother, Ricciardio, is determined to win back her man. Meanwhile, another storyline involves Alcina’s sister Morgana (a hilarious comic soprano Anna Neely who stole the show on opening night, Verity Grupe is also cast) and her pining for Ricciardio (Bradamante, really), and a plot by Morgana’s lover Oronte (J. Matthew Boazman) as the only male actor in a major supporting role), to plant a jealous wedge jealousy between Alcina and Ruggiero.

Rounding out the cast is Makayla Dorman as Atlante, Bradamante’s lady-in-waiting and as the youth Oberto searching for his father, Emily Batson (and Joi Richardson at some performances).

“Alcina” is grand, sweeping and hell of a musical adventure in early opera. And Elser takes full advantage of the balcony as staging ground for an all-around sublime, visceral operatic experience about love and good above evil. BRAVA to All.

Kudos as well to the gorgeous costumes (Brook Nelson, assistant costume design): the lavish period dresses with panniers, the “Hamilton”-inspired tailcoats and ruffled shirts for the mail roles, and the commedia dell’arte costumes for the chorus; the myriad props (Alcina’s magical and lighted scepter is imposing and impressive); and Stacey Gaskin’s hair and make-up designs.

Mr. Boazman is also assistant director and Emily Corley is stage manager.

“Alcina” continues Saturday, Jan. 26 @7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 27@3 p.m. at Daniel Recital Hall in the Petrie School of Music at Converse College in Spartanburg. Tickets are $12-$15 and available at
FREE for Converse College Students, Faculty/Staff.

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