Betrayed by her entire community and her beloved father, Princess Ginevra sits in shocked horror as her entire world is upended. She watches as her former friends and loved ones turn against her and mock her without so much as asking her side of the story. The patriarchal world in which she had somehow managed to be a bright spot quickly judges, demeans and punishes her.
This is how we find Ginevra (Brenda Rae) in the 2nd act of Lyric Opera production of Ariodante, Handel’s Baroque opera. This production takes the action and sets it in 1960s/1970s on a Scottish Island. We meet Ginevra as an ecstatic young woman in love with Ariodante-played on opening night by superb understudy Julie Miller due to Alice Coote having the flu. Ginevra and Ariodante plan to marry and have the King’s (Kyle Ketelsen) blessing however the nefarious priest Polinesso (Iestyn Davies) wants Ginevra to himself and will go to extreme lengths to orchestrate their union including manipulating the maid Dalinda (Heidi Stober). Tricked by Polinesso into thinking Ginevra unfaithful, Ariodante attempts to take his own life while Ginevra is condemned to death by her father and publicly scorned until Ariodante returns triumphantly after learning of Polinesso’s deception.
Original director Richard Jones and revival director Benjamin Davis’s bold concept helps to connect modern audiences with Ariodante. The striking set designed by Ultz showcases a segment of The King’s house, as if we’ve opened up the front of a dollhouse and are peering in. There are 3 separate rooms within the house that are divided by stark lines and simple yet remarkable doors-or rather suggestion of doors that don’t block any action but help solidify the division of the spaces. We are able to see simultaneous characters in isolation reacting to what's happening in the story. A contemporary feel is also given by the costuming, designed by Ultz, especially when we see Polinesso without his priest robes in jeans and covered in tattoos.
Another bright spot in this production, in this writer’s view, was the choice to use puppetry in lieu of the traditional dance numbers that end each of the shows three acts. The meticulous work of puppeteers Sam Clark, Kate Colebrook, Tommy Luther, and John Trindle brought the puppets to life, especially impressive in a space the size of the Civic Opera House. The range shown with the puppetry was equally impressive—what started as a fun and loving way for the villagers to show support, honor and joke with their princess and her betrothed quickly turns into a way to humiliate and punish Ginevra.
The vocal and acting performances struck this writer as especially strong. Rae’s performance starts palpably energetic and full of love, then breaks our hearts as the story unfolds. Stober is another powerhouse voice with range that goes from agonizing over her unrequited feelings for Polinesso, who eventually physically and sexually abuses her, to finding her own power to correct her mistake. Davies’ acting was almost too good in the vocally challenging role, as the audience didn’t know whether to boo or applaud as he took his bow—a clear sign that he was an impactful villain.
In the final moments of Ariodante, which this writer doesn’t want to spoil, this production deviates quite a bit from the traditional ending. This moment helps this production resonate more fully with a modern audience and packs quite a punch.
This production is perfect for established lovers of Opera but also quite accessible to newbies. While the length may be daunting for those used to most theatre/movie going experiences nowadays, the modernization of the story makes it accessible to contemporary audiences.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Brenda Rae, Heidi Stober, Iestyn Davies, Alice Coote, Julie Miller, Kyle Ketelsen, Josh Lovell, Eric Ferring, Sam Clark, Kate Colebrook, Tommy Luther, John Trindle
Composer: George Frideric Handel
Conductor: Harry Bicket
Original Director: Richard Jones
Revival Director: Benjamin Davis
Set and Costume Design: Ultz
Lighting Design: Mimi Jordan Sherin
Puppetry Director: Finn Cladwell
Puppetry Designer: Finn Cladwell and Nick Barnes
Puppetry Costume Designer: Dulcie Best
Chorus Master: Michael Black
Choreographer: Lucy Burge
Associate Puppetry Director: Sarah Hatten
Assistant Director: David Carl Toulson
Stage Manager: Rachel A. Tobias
Continuo Instrumentalists: Mark Shuldiner, Calum Cook, David Walker
Musical Preparation: William C. Billingham, Matthew Piatt, Eric Weimer
Prompter: Susan Miller Hult
Projected English Titles: Beatrice Arnal
Tuesday 3/5 and Sunday 3/17 at 2:00 pm
Friday 3/8, Monday 3/11 and Thursday 3/14 at 7:00 pm
Lyric Opera of Chicago
20 N. Wacker Drive
Chicago, IL 60606
About the Author
Taryn Smith graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago's BFA Performance program in 2011. After graduating, she co-founded Realize Theatre Group and served as Executive Director for the company. She has filled numerous roles while with RTG both on and off stage including making her playwriting debut with her play America, Inc . She has worked as a stage manage, designer, director, and actor. Outside of the theatre world, Taryn is a licensed massage therapist.
Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Taryn Smith.