Galuppi’s Alessandro nell’Indie in Würzburg

Baldassare Galuppi, who was a successor to Handel as director of the Italian Opera at London’s Haymarket Theatre, wrote over 70 works for the stage, very few of which have seen the light of day since. But Alessandro nell’Indie, given a rare outing at the Mainfrankishe Theater Würzburg, shows that he was a gifted composer;  it has music which is always attractive and in some parts which contain tense harmonies or florid passages, brilliant. A few of the showpiece arias have a double reprise of the main theme (thus A-B-A-B-A) which might have tried one’s patience, but Enrico Calesso and his orchestral players gave such an engaging, energetic but also fluid account of the score that the musical dimension to the performance never lost its grip. And that despite some singing which was not of the first order. Joshua Whitener in the title role attacked the high notes and coloratura phrases with vigour, but he does not have the leggero tenor required for music of this kind. Denis Lakey, as his rival Poro, does have the right counter tenor voice, but it is not a beautiful one. The females in the cast offered committed performances but, apart from Silke Evers, who gave a stylish and highly satisfying account of Cleofilde’s demanding role, were not always comfortable with the musical idiom.

The production by the Belgians François De Carpentries and Karine Van Hercke had some good moments. I particularly liked the Brechtian alienation device of supplying alternative tragic and happy endings from which the audience could choose. But there were other aspects which disappointed. The piece is located in and around what is modern Pakistan and Afghanistan, and so the temptation to give Alexander’s empire building efforts contemporary relevance could not be resisted: we were given the inevitable visual images of tanks, bombs and destroyed cities, and Alexander was turned into an American playboy general. I am not convinced that all of this related well to a drama which is more about private passions and intrigues than public virtues and vices. And given the complexities of the twists and turns in the plot and rudimentary libretto, I would have been happier if director and designer had spent more time and effort on clarifying the action, the characters and their motivation, and less on clever visual effects.