I love Handel. This is a thought crossed my mind again last night when Karina Gauvin was singing arias from Alcina, the so-called “last great opera” of the composer, accompanied by the ever lively and energetic Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Gauvin conveyed a great sense of drama, particularly in the final excerpt, the Aria Ah! mio cor!(Act I, sc. 8), when the enchantress (or “witch” if you like) Alcina was heart-broken by the fact that she had lost her magic over boyfriend Ruggiero:

          Ah! my heart! You are scorned!

          Stars! Gods! God of love!

          Traitor! I love you so much;

          How can you leave me, alone and in

          tears, oh gods! Why?

Then she regained her composure and the dominatrix attitude returned:

          But can this be Alcina who grieves?

          I am Queen, an there is still time;

          Stay here, or die; suffer eternally,

          Or return to me.

But in the end, she realized with profound sadness that after all her lover was gone for good:

          Ah! my heart! &c.

How many times in our life has our sense of invincibility suddenly been defeated decisively by the feeling of vulnerability? Is this why this music about a fabled witch brought tears to my eyes? I love Handel – all the sadness in his music actually brings me strong physical pleasure and fulfilment.

Gauvin gave an encore, Handel’s Lascia ch’io pianga from Rinaldo (Act 2). The audience, most of them in their 70s, gave a warmer-than-usual response (Toronto audience were particularly cold this winter for unknown reasons).

I must admit my eyes occasionally wander around concert halls when I am not able to commit 100% to music. On the first half of last night’s concert when Locatelli’s music was played, I was looking at two people in the orchestra seats. One was a slender teen with dark curly hair and a big pair of glasses; the other seems to be his mother, a woman in her late 40s with glorious red hair and Margaret Atwoodish facial feature, impeccably dressed. They sat very close to each other, almost leaning against each other, and both were paying intense attention to the musicians (and supposedly the music). This kind of intellectual dimension of mother-and-son intimacy is so moving, if they are indeed mother and son.

Here is a recording of Joyce DiDonato singing Ah! mio cor!:

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