“This is a crack ensemble, the like of which may not exist in our own city”
Boston Musical Intelligencer
15 November 2009
(Harrison, La Koro Sutro)


George Frideric Handel (1685–1759)

George Frideric Handel

‘Tornami a Vagheggiar’
  (from Alcina, HWV 34, 1735)

“You have taken far too much trouble over your opera. Here in England that is mere waste of time. What the English like is something that they can beat time to, something that hits them straight on the drum of the ear.”

— George Frideric Handel

Handel, known around the world as the composer of Messiah and for instrumental works (Water Music, Music for the Royal Fireworks, organ music and sonatas), was known in 18th-century England for his operas. Thirty-seven of his 40 operas had their premieres in England.

He was a businessman as well as a composer, founding the first of his three opera companies in London during the winter of 1718-19. He kept a close eye on the box office and on audience preferences, and competed successfully with other opera companies. Public demand for Italian opera began to wane, however, and although Handel’s second company would outlast the competition, it would close in 1737.

Alcina, considered among his most accomplished Italian operas, came near the end of that run, in 1735. It ran for 18 performances and was presented again in two later seasons, then fell into obscurity. It was produced again two centuries later in Leipzig in 1928. Handel continued to write operas but produced mainly oratorios after 1740, including Messiah in 1742.

Tornami a Vagheggiar (from Alcina)
First performance: April 16, 1735; Libretto: Riccardo Broschi

Alcina is a sorceress who lives on a desert island that appears verdant and lovely because it is under a spell. Many objects on the island — stones, trees, bushes, wild beasts — are in fact noble lovers of whom Alcina has grown tired, all under spells. Her current suitor is the spellbound knight Ruggiero, who has left his fiancée Bradamante.

Nothing is as it seems. Bradamante, searching for Ruggiero, arrives on the island in armor, disguised as her brother Ricciardo. Morgana, Alcina’s sister, falls in love with “Ricciardo,” but Morgana is already engaged to Oronte, who commands Alcina’s military. The network of spells, secret identities, disguises, and plottings continues to grow. Alcina falls for Ruggiero. Oronte spreads a false rumor that Alcina loves “Ricciardo.” Bradamante’s traveling companion Melisso, disguised as Ruggiero’s old tutor Atlante, puts a magical ring on Ruggiero’s finger, which allows Ruggiero to see the island as it truly is. Alcina plans to change “Ricciardo” into a wild beast.

Many magical plot twists later, Alcina’s navy has been destroyed. Ruggiero and Bradamante are reunited. A magic urn, source of all Alcina’s powers, is smashed. Her magical palace sinks beneath the sea. Alcina’s former lovers are released from their spells. Oberto, a young boy who has been searching for his father Astolfo, is reunited when Astolfo’s spell is broken and he is no longer a wild lion. Alcina and Morgana flee. Everyone else sings of happiness and relief.

“Tornami a Vagheggiar” is an aria sung by Morgana at the end of Act I. Morgana has learned that Alcina plans to change “Ricciardo” into a wild beast and begs “him” to flee. Ricciardo, who is actually Bradamante in disguise, refuses to leave because “he” loves another. Morgana mistakenly believes she is that other person.

Tornami a vagheggiar,
te solo vuol’ amar
quest' anima fedel,
caro, mio bene, caro!

Già ti donai il mio cor:
fido sarà il mio amor;
mai ti sarò crudel,
cara mia spene.

Return to me to languish.
It wants to love only you,
This faithful heart,
My dear, my good one, my dear!

Already I gave you my heart;
I trust you will be my love.
But you will be too cruel,
My dear hope.