Handel’s Arminio was written for Covent Garden and while admired by the cognoscenti at the time it wasn’t a commercial success. It’s a well worked three act opera seria with nothing much to distinguish it from others of its ilk. For what it’s worth it’s set during Augustus’ attempt to conquer the land between the Rhine and the Elbe but its themes of death or glory and love versus duty, all with an impausible reconciliation ending, could easily be set anywhere. Actually it almost wilfully ignores history as the libretto claims it happened in 9AD when the real Arminius (Hermann the Cherusker) decisively defeated Varo (also in the opera) in the Teutoburger Wald ending Roman hopes of extending the Empire beyond the Rhine.(*)
Malmö might not seem the most obvious place to record Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande but in 2016 the opera there assembled a mostly French cast and two young French rising stars; Maxime Pascal as conductor and Benjamin Lazar as director. The result is interesting, rather good and very French.
Katie Mitchell’s production of Handel ‘s Alcina recorded at Aix-en-Provence in 2015 is extremely interesting. It’s almost complete with maybe twenty minutes of the ballet music cut. None of the ballet is actually staged as such. It’s also a Mitchell special multi-space set (like Written on Skin) with the lower level having Alcina/Morgana’s boudoir, drawing room or whatever at any given moment flanked by two smaller spaces which are the “personal” spaces of the two sisters. When the ladies withdraw from the public/enchanted space they are replaced by actresses who look decades older. Only late in the piece as Alcina’s magic fades do the two worlds get confused. The upper level of the set is taken up with the giant machine that turns Alcina’s victims into taxidermied animals. The overall aesthetic is upscale modern with lots of actors as very competent servants.