Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

David Daniels
25 May 2006

Flights of Madness — Munich’s New “Orlando”

Returning from Munich’s new production of Handel’s “Orlando” at thirty thousand feet above clouds which might have done service as props for that opera when first staged in 1733, it occurred that the great man himself could have had things to say about what might be director David Alden’s valedictory baroque piece for the Bayerische Staatsoper.

As it happened, “Orlando” was a turning point in Handel’s own career as an opera composer as it only lasted for ten performances before his singers defected to a rival theatre, with devastating consequences. As Sir Peter Jonas steps down as the Intendant at Munich Opera, another era is passing, one which has helped to change the face of baroque opera in Europe, and Alden, together with his equally significant design colleagues Paul Steinberg (stage) and Buki Shiff (costumes), has been a major innovative talent and pusher of boundaries. He also pushes the patience, particularly that of the famously-conservative Munich patrons, and, with this offering, he has thrown just about everything into the deliberately provocative mix: video wall, sex, anti-war clichés, ridiculously over-the-top props, a reference to suicide bombers, and a character obviously based on a well-known B-list celebrity. So the very mixed reception on opening night was hardly a surprise with the boos resounding loudly, only finally being out-gunned by the crowd’s appreciation of the excellent cast of singers and perhaps by some also appreciating the undeniable wit and zest of Alden’s work.

“Orlando” follows on the heels of his equally controversial productions of “Rinaldo”, “Ariodante” and “Poppea” and this time he places Handel’s take on Ariosto’s tale “Orlando Furioso” firmly in the present day, give or take a decade or two. We are invited to join our hero and the godlike sorcerer Zoroastro inside some corrugated military space research facility, and both Orlando (David Daniels, countertenor, as an unwilling general fixated on the pleasures of love rather than military glory) and Dorinda (Olga Pasichnyk, soprano, here transmuted from pastoral shepherdess into army-private-cum-personal assistant to Zoroastro) wear blue army camouflage fatigues. The non-singing actors continue the theme, although they seemed to have been chosen more for their athletic build than for their drill-skills. Zoroastro, (Alastair Miles, bass, in neat grey suit, shiny shoes and horn-rimmed glasses under abundant silver grey hair) presumably runs this rather malignant operation from a stark grey desk — just a desk, as Alden doesn’t believe in a superfluity of tokens. Miles achieved an amusing, if thought-provoking, conflation of Dr.Strangelove and Donald Rumsden. The lovely high-born Angelica who Orlando adores, (Rosemary Joshua) is more smitten with her mysterious Medoro, and is played as a flashy, trampish socialite with great relish by the English handelian soprano. Her lover Medoro, who once loved Dorinda, is sung by American mezzo Beth Clayton who adopts the disguise of a neo-Valentino in black Arab robes and beard, amid much flashing of daggers and swirling of black silk.

If the setting was pure Alden euro trash — all flashing orange walls and pink sequins — the singing and music was pure handelian delight from start to finish. Ivor Bolton in the pit once more with this excellent house orchestra made the most of their baroque experience and style and, if occasionally allowing them too much dynamic rein for the quieter lower voices of Clayton and Daniels, also encouraged some stunning playing — such as from the two viole d’amore in the third act who accompanied Daniels as he sang the exquisite lullaby Già l’ebro mio ciglio. Together they accomplished the most memorably beautiful music of the evening. Daniels is something of a Munich favourite and his following here has grown with successive triumphs in “Poppea”, “Rinaldo” and “Saul” and although he gets inside this role with his usual vocal artistry and dramatic sense, it cannot be said that it is one that showcases his voice as those certainly did. There is little writing high on the staff where his velvet-toned instrument loves to live and is heard most effectively in a house this big. When he does get the freedom to use his higher range — particularly in some liquid and stylish ornamentation — the Daniels magic is undeniable and was rewarded with both hushed attention in the lullaby and noisy appreciation of the more florid arias such as Fammi combattere and Cielo! Se tu il consenti. His sheer physical commitment deserves mention too, as the intensely demanding “mad scene” that ends Act Two culminates in Orlando throwing himself repeatedly up against an inward-curving wall depicting the inside of his skull. Incidentally, this scene was probably one of the most effective and interesting in the opera: the singer entangled in yards of coloured cables, representing, one assumes, the synapses of the maddened hero’s brain.

The soprano roles in “Orlando” are the fire-cracker ones and get most of the best traditional A-B-A da capo arias. Here Handel was playing safer than with his quite daring, more unstructured arioso and accompagnato work for Senesino to sing in the title role. Olga Pasichnyk was making her debut here as Dorinda, and quickly established her credentials as a most fluent and technically accomplished interpreter of the role — pin sharp coloratura, easy leaps and sweet legato were all added to an appealing stage presence of gamin charm. Her Amore è qual vento was attacked with verve and astonishing virtuosity, yet also a warm tone that perfectly suited the characterisation. She received some of the loudest applause of the night, which was well deserved. In contrast, Rosemary Joshua was a crystalline and razor-sharp Angelica, using her dramatic skills to underline vocally the rather brazen nature of this spoilt baby of the boulevards. Certainly she looked the part — slim, lithe and glittering — but she also managed to suggest the character’s insecurity with admirable skill. If occasionally she strayed a little too far down the path of vocal assertiveness, at the cost of some tonal irregularity in, for instance, Non potrà dirmi ingrate, all was forgiven when she returned just minutes later to quieter, more reflective work in Verdi piante.

In casting the role of romantic swain Medoro as a mezzo, Munich is in fact following Handel’s original casting plan, even though today the part is as often taken by a countertenor. Beth Clayton, a graduate of Houston’s Opera Studio, seems to specialise in the trouser role repertoire of Handel and Mozart and her facility with the genre was evident as she strode convincingly, yet elegantly, around as the “Bedouin warrior” of Buki Shiff’s imagination. However, her voice, warm and full-toned as it was, left something to be desired as she somehow seemed to miss the essential pathos and endearing honesty of the character. This was most evident in Medoro’s musing upon his writing of his own and Angelica’s initials on the rocket ship (Alden’s transposition from the original tree), expressed by Handel so evocatively in the ravishing, limpid aria Verdi allori. Of all the singers, she was perhaps the least accomplished in the baroque style stakes, although admittedly was up against stern opposition.

In contrast, Alastair Miles is a bass of huge experience in this type of role and it shows — he drew a nice portrait of a probably-mad Chief Scientist playing with the hearts and minds of those around him. Vocally he was secure and, for a bass, very adept at the demanding coloratura required by Handel who, unlike later composers, made few concessions to tessitura. It was unfortunate that one of his most demanding bravura arias, Sorge infausta una procella, co-incided with a particularly crass bit of Aldenesque jokeyness: he was expected to climb up and cling to the side of a large rocket ship as it “took off”, complete with billowing white smoke and strobing red light flames, by the slightly ridiculous means of a hefty “soldier” pushing it determinedly off-stage whilst trying not to be seen. It was too much for some: the boos started before the music had quite finished and whist the unfortunate Miles was still being shunted out of sight.

If the boo-ers thought that the worst bit of kitsch was over (they had managed to restrain themselves with mere stripping-off, simulated sex, putting gerberas down the muzzles of machine-guns et al) then they were to be disappointed: Alden had one more stroke of over-the-top genius dreamed up and it was certainly memorable. When Orlando is totally crazy, unable to cope with either his own split personality or being betrayed by his beloved, he resorts to violence in a dreadful acquiescence to the military prowess advocated by Zoroastro. This is where Alden, Steinberg and Shiff really throw down the gauntlet and dare us go along for the ride — but it’s a big call when, with lights flashing, walls trembling and guns booming, Orlando arrives on scene astride a monstrously funny robotic tank, which moves somewhat hilariously on individual legs like some huge sci-fi spider from a comic book. The audience laughed out loud. Equally comic-book was the hero’s attire: throughout the opera Daniels had been gradually upping the hardwear slung about his body, as the hero’s mental state deteriorated, but now he resembled nothing less than Arnold Schwarzeneggar in “Terminator”, pumped up and helmeted, eyes glittering madly through smears of camouflage paint as he rode his war machine into battle with the “evil spirits” — the boys in blue again — in his mind. Bang, crash, smoke and flame, and they all fell down.

Yet, paradoxically, from this chaos of ugly and frankly juvenile pastiche came beauty, in the form of Orlando’s final lullaby to himself; and the more so as it was sung from front of stage, the phalanxes of dead behind, with creamy tone and superb control — yet also with an eerie calm that sent shivers. From the ridiculous to the sublime in five minutes. Maybe that is this director’s saving grace.

It will be a shame if David Alden doesn’t direct Handel here again — for all his perverse and challenging ways, he has helped open up baroque opera to a new way of thinking, a new way of putting it into modern context, and he works with his singers rather than imposing upon them. Whether he takes all his audience with him is debatable — but as long as he takes most of them, and his singers continue to be willing to risk all for him, then he won’t end up like Mr. Handel in 1733 with an empty stage.

© S.C. Loder

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):