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Produced by Niv Fichman and Piet Erkelens;
directed by Barbara Willis Sweete; music by George Frideric Handel;
with Kiri Te Kanawa, and Christopher Hogwood and the
Academy of Ancient Music
NOS/Rhombus Media Inc., 1993. VHS cassette, 50 min., $129.95
Distributed by Lynx Images Releasing.

Subject Headings:
Handel, George Frideric, 1685-1759. Serse.
Te Kanawa, Kiri.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up

Reviewed by Frances Daw Bergles

Volume 22 Number 4
1994 September

Based largely but loosely on Handel's opera  Alcina, The Sorceress is described as a "pastiche opera" featuring music from the "Magic Operas" of George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), including selections from Admeto, Amadigi, Julius Caesar, Agrippina and Giu stino as well as Alcina. The co-production was devised for television and, in an age fascinated with the Mozart and Salieri conspiracy and mesmerized by dungeons and dragons, should have enough drama, suspense, magic and fright for everyone.

The great Kiri Te Kanawa is a benign Alcina, a much gentler creature than Handel's original enchantress who used her black powers to turn admirers into trees and other inanimate objects. This is fortunate, as Dame Te Kanawa is far too sympathetic to be a convincing Queen of the Night.

An improbable plot is held together by magnificent singing, music and dancing. Alcina stages a ball where she bewitches a handsome young courtier, Ruggiero, stealing him from his beloved, Bradamante. His transformation as a captive of Alcina is marked by his metamorphosis from a bewigged baroque gentleman to a black prince with the removal of his wig and shining clothes by Alcina's sinister catlike minions.

Bradamante, however, is not easily thwarted. She steals Alcina's magic staff and entrances Ruggiero in turn. Alcina calls on the Spirits of Darkness to avenge her but finds her powers gone with her staff. Powerless, she laments. In the meantime Ruggiero has second thoughts and, as the agents of darkness steal back to Alcina with her wand, so does Ruggiero.

The story-line provides a foil for Dame Te Kanawa's arias and some excellent dancing by the Scapino Ballet of Rotterdam that ranges from the minuet to the menacing movement of the cats.

Sumptuous costumes, lavish sets and exquisite music contribute to an inspired production. The sublime music of Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music issues from a subterranean podium that allows interesting shots of the singer and the orchestra through its separating lattice.


Frances Daw Bergles is the librarian at the Medel Art Gallery and Conservatory in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

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