Major Operas | Alcina by George Frideric Handel | Late Baroque

Alcina (composed in 1735) is the most celebrated of Handel’s ‘magic’ operas. Its dynamic situations are compelling and poignant: Handel’s portrayal of an enchanted hero, his brave true love and their evil enemy inspired him to create a particularly fine score that examines intense emotional experiences such as loss, guilt, lust, nostalgia and the restoration of memory.

Handel’s version is based on an anonymous adaptation of Ariosto that had been set to music by Riccardo Broschi, Farinelli’s brother, for Rome in 1728. The title role, composed for Anna Maria Strada del Pò (active 1719–40), is an especially fascinating and complex woman, although all the characters in the opera reveal complicated emotions and relationships that are examined by some of Handel’s finest operatic music.

Composed: 1735
Premiered: 1735, London
Libretto unknown, after Antonio Fanzaglia and Lodovico Ariosto

Act I

Bradamante, disguised as her brother Ricciardo, has arrived with her confidant Melisso in the realm of Alcina, an enchantress. They hope to rescue Bradamante’s lover Ruggiero, who has been bewitched by Alcina. Pretending to have lost their way, the pair are welcomed by Alcina’s sister, Morgana, who falls in love with ‘Ricciardo’ (Bradamante). Alcina, who is in love with Ruggiero, welcomes ‘Ricciardo’ and Melisso to her palace. Bradamante and Melisso try to rescue Ruggiero, but he does not recognize them. Oronte, betrothed to Morgana, challenges ‘Ricciardo’ to a duel; Morgana protects ‘Ricciardo’. Oronte tells Ruggiero that Alcina loves ‘Ricciardo’. Ruggiero confronts Alcina and she denies it. Alcina vows to turn ‘Ricciardo’ into a wild beast to prove her love for Ruggiero; Morgana urges ‘him’ to flee. ‘He’ asks her to tell Alcina that ‘his’ heart belongs to another; Morgana is overjoyed.

Act II

Disguised as Ruggiero’s old tutor, Melisso manages to persuade Ruggiero of his true identity. He advises Ruggiero to tell Alcina he is going out hunting and then escape. Ruggiero again meets Bradamante, but is mistrustful in case it is Alcina in disguise. As Alcina prepares to turn ‘Ricciardo’ into a beast, Morgana enters, followed by Ruggiero. He persuades Alcina that she does not need to perform the spell in order to prove her love for him, and tells her that he is going out hunting. Oronte reveals that Melisso, ‘Ricciardo’ and Ruggiero are preparing to flee and mocks Morgana for believing that ‘Ricciardo’ loves her. Bradamante reassures Oberto that they will find his father. Bradamante and Ruggiero are finally reunited but are overheard by Morgana, who now knows about Bradamante’s disguise and Ruggiero’s betrayal. Alcina summons spirits to impede the lovers’ escape, but her powers are weakening.


Morgana and Oronte are reunited. Ruggiero encounters Alcina and explains that he is betrothed to Bradamante; Alcina swears vengeance. Melisso and Ruggiero prepare to destroy Alcina’s powers, with the help of the magic ring; Oronte reveals to Alcina that her powers are no longer working properly. Ruggiero and Bradamante destroy the source of Alcina’s powers, despite her protestations that she has no evil intentions. Alcina...

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