Director’s notes on Alcina — HSOW 2010

Notes on Interpretation by GaRRy Williams, director

We have set Alcina on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, 1936. This seemed to give the opera an urgency, as well as the necessary conflict between two distinct value systems. One the one hand, we have the Spanish Republicans, fueled by the liberal ideals of socialism, and the Spanish Nationalists, driven by the values of conservatism and, in its tragic extreme, fascism.

Rather than making the opera’s title character an evil sorceress in a traditional way, we have imagined Alcina as a strong woman who champion dangerous ideas. She represents a doomed political-cultural moment, a dying social order, an experiment in women’s liberation, social equality and libertarianism.

In our production, we embraced the otherwise queer convention of men played by women who fall in love with women presenting as men. We confront the issue head on. Alcina runs a lesbian-anarchist night club L’Eliso, where gender inversion, sexual freedom and drug-induced escapist fantasies coexist.

I was influenced by the surrealists and stream-of-consciousness: Salvador Dalì, James Joyce, Virginia Wolf, Gertrude Stein. We have used dream sequences and and memories in staging some of the arias, particularly Ruggiero’s.

In some ways, we live in Alcina’s world. Canada is often perceived as a socialist state, protecting certain freedoms and socialist values. There is a real and constant possibility that these freedoms will disappear.

This a heart-breaking love story of jealousy, sacrifice and revenge, told against the backdrop of social revolution and the rise of fascism.

We have had such fun exploring this opera in a non-traditional way. It hasn’t been easy. We scheduled extra sessions to better understand 1930’s politics to unpack the concept for this production. We were continuously making discoveries about the material, the characters and the music – a process I expect to continue throughout the run. The opera is “full” in a way that is both challenging and rewarding to the singers, and quite exciting to the production team.

You can see Alcina on Friday August 6, Saturday August 7, Thursday August 12, all at 7:30 pm and on Saturday August 14, at 2 pm. at the Sir James Dunn Theatre in the Dalhousie Arts Centre in Halifax. For more information, see the Performance page.

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