In the middle of Handel’s “Ariodante,” the title character makes an uncomfortably convincing case for suicide. On Sunday, the mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, singing the role in a concert performance of the opera with the conductor Harry Bicket and his English Concert chamber orchestra, held Carnegie Hall’s audience in thrall for nearly nine minutes as she wrung every bit of emotion from this music.
In this long aria, “Scherza infida,” Ariodante, a Scottish knight, imagines his beloved, the princess Ginevra, frolicking with his rival, a duke. The slow, halting melody conveys both his longing and his desolation; a curiously lilting bass line for pizzicato strings seems to mock Ariodante with a hint of Ginevra’s fickleness. In a somber middle section, the knight resolves to take his own life and return as a ghost to torment Ginevra. The music has such grief-stricken elegance that for a moment it almost convinces you that this is possible.
The English Concert’s almost annual visits to Carnegie since 2013 for concert performances of Handel operas and oratorios have been highlights of several seasons. Ms. DiDonato starred in the ensemble’s extraordinary “Alcina” (2014), and the hall was packed for “Ariodante,” one of Handel’s longest operas: The performance lasted close to four hours, with two intermissions. (It was webcast live on medici.tv and is now available for viewing there.)