Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Orlando Furioso by Gustave Doré [Source: Wikipedia]
27 Mar 2011

Orlando Furioso, London

Adapting an extended literary work for the stage remains a challenge today and was no less so in the baroque era. Ariosto’s enormously long poem Orlando Furioso was extremely popular and inevitably his highly coloured characters found their way onto the operatic stage.

Antonio Vivaldi: Orlando Furioso (concert performance)

Marie-Nicole Lemieux: Orlando; Veronica Cangemi: Angelica; Franziska Gottwald: Alcina; Philippe Jaroussky: Ruggiero; Daniela Pini: Medoro; Christian Senn: Astolfo; Kristina Hammarström: Bradamante. Ensemble Matheus. Jean-Christophe Spinosi, conductor.

Above: Orlando Furioso by Gustave Doré [Source: Wikipedia]

 

Vivaldi’s first encounter with Orlando was in 1713 when he mounted Ristori’s Orlando Furioso and his own Orlando Finto Pazzo in Venice; the Ristori was a success, his opera less so. In 1727 Vivaldi returned to the subject, this time setting the same libretto that Ristori had used. Not long afterwards, in the 1730’s, Handel would use the same episodes to created two of his greatest operas, Alcina and Orlando.

But whereas Handel created two operas, Vivaldi crammed both plots into a single breathless romp. Handel’s operas are works of great depth and sophistication, whereas Vivaldi’s aim seemed to be to entertain; the drama runs at high speed, the arias are short and lively, the plot mixes magic and humour with occasional shades of drama.

Having given us Handel’s Alcina in December, the Barbican’s Great Performers season on Saturday 26th March brought us Jean-Christophe Spinosi and his Ensemble Malthus in Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso. The performance originated at the Theatre des Champs Elysee, but as is the way of these things illness forced some cast changes so that Daniela Pini and Franziska Gottwald joined the cast at short notice. This meant that Pini and Gottwald sang from the score whereas the remainder of the cast were off the book.

By combining Alcina and Orlando, Vivaldi ended up with a large number of characters, 7 in all, even though Alcina’s sister is mentioned but never appears and the character of Dorinda (present in Handel’s Orlando) is entirely absent. Vivaldi asks a lot of his singers, his arias though generally short in length are very much in the style of his instrumental concerti. Each singer was presented with an opening aria which used a series of variations on the theme of bravura up-tempo virtuosity; each toe-tapping in its way, with brilliant string accompaniment, but fatally lacking in extremes of variety or emotion. It was only when we were two thirds of the way through act 1 that the tempo changed and Philippe Jaroussky’s Ruggiero entered with an aria of haunting lyrical beauty.

Act 1 involved a great deal of introduction and explanation. It was in Act 2 that the real drama started, when Victoria Cangemi’s beautifully lyrical, if scheming, Angelica united with Daniela Pini’s nicely hesitant Medoro. Having been pursued by Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s Orlando, Angelica has led Orlando on and tricked him. Needless to say Orlando goes mad.

Vivaldi’s way the drama here was less sure than Handel’s. When Angelica pretended to respond to Orlando’s attentions Vivaldi gave her an aria of great lyrical beauty, finely sung by Victoria Cangemi; but entirely lacking in an iota of irony or a feeling that Angelica doesn’t actually mean what she says. Marie-Nicole Lemieux was a one woman tour de force as the hero Orlando, a series of bravura arias tremendously sung led to Orlando’s mad scene which closed act 2.

Parallel to this Alcina, played with charm and amused detachment by Franziska Gottwald, was busy captivating Jaroussky’s lyrical and slightly wimp-ish Ruggiero, in turn pursued with amazonic charm by Kristina Hammarstrom’s Bradamante (Ruggiero’s beloved, disguised as a man).

The libretto left the singers little time to create a three dimensional character, they were only able to provide a sketch, usually accompanied by some brilliant singing. Gottwald was notable for the way she suggested Alcina’s charm and the loneliness behind, a woman able to get any man she wanted but unable to form a real relationship. It was her aria towards the end of act, movingly sung by Gottwald, where we first got some real depth of feeling.

In act 3, the two plots collided as Orlando in his madness destroyed the temple holding the key to Alcina’s power; (a strange confusion of operatic plots rather as if Lucia di Lammermoor suddenly appeared and killed Macbeth). Spinosi encouraged Lemieux to move from bravura to over the top in Orlando’s act 3 mad scenes, the style veering towards the 19th century mad scene and even, fatally, G&S’s Mad Margaret. This was an occasion when less might have been more.

Throughout proceedings Gottwald’s Alcina kept her poise and left us in an aura of sadness rather than heart rending grief. Interestingly Angelica was taken to task for the way she had toyed with Orlando’s affections and led him on; a moralising not often found in baroque opera.

The rather protracted tidying up of loose ends in act 3 made me rather admire the way Handel and his librettists often took the blue pencil to final acts and speeded things up; that certainly needed doing here.

Christian Senn was the only lower voice, another knight charmed by Alcina; he seemed at times the only voice of reason.

Though Vivaldi did use trumpets, horns and oboes in the orchestra, he did so extremely sparingly so that the predominant orchestral colour was the strings. Spinosi and his ensemble, quite a large group numbering 28 strings, did full justice to Vivaldi’s brilliant orchestra accompaniments and tuttis.

The opera was presented in what has become the standard for this style of concert performance, with singers at the side of the stage, making generally correct entrances and exits, all the women playing men were helpfully in trousers. It certainly helped the drama that most of them were singing off the book. But more importantly we had singing of such a high order that when Vivaldi did use the music to create drama, we felt the benefit of it. In terms of sheer vocal quality this was an evening hardly to be faulted and the enthusiasm of both singers and ensemble seemed infectious.

Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso is a long opera; we had over 3 hours of music with a single 20 minute interval in the middle of act 2. As the evening started at 6.30 and finished at 10.10pm, I could not help thinking that Vivaldi’s act structure could have been respected and the piece performed with 2 intervals.

Vivaldi’s opera succeeds on its own terms, that is it entertains; in fact it does so royally. We might wish for Handel’s greater depth, but Vivaldi’s romp is fun especially when presented with such skill as it was here.

Robert Hugill

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):