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Handel - Orlando

Independent Opera at The Lilian Baylis Theatre

7 November 2006

Conductor – Gary Cooper

Direction and Set Design – Alessandro Talevi
Costume design – Cordelia Chisholm

Orlando – William Towers
Angelica – Rebecca Ryan
Medoro – Christopher Ainslie
Dorlinda – Joana Seara
Zorastro – Nicholas Warden

Orlando is one of those operas based on Ariosto's infuriating poem Orlando Furioso, which means that it is set in a land of mystic fantasy where objects spring up, terrifying monsters loom and even landscapes are transformed at the wave of a wand.   The hapless characters fall in love the wrong people and Orlando succumbs to his frustration in a crazy mock-chivalrous destruction of everything within in reach...   Not at all the sort of thing that is easily staged in a studio theatre on a limited budget.

In this production the orchestra was placed in the centre of the stage with an elliptical walkway all around it.    Considerable use was made of puppetry, shadow animation and video projected either onto the backdrop or the “stage” – much of it cleverly done and at times gives the impression of a revolving stage.      Dorinda's enchanted garden had a very “Magic Roundabout” appeal with fountain, plants and a nightingale all revolving merrily on sticks.

So, Talevi's direction was full of good ideas, but sustaining them over the full length of a Handel aria proved elusive, especially for an audience seated in the cramped surroundings.

However the uniformly high standard of singing more than compensated.   In most cases one finds a mezzo or contralto cast as Orlando and Medoro , and to have found counter tenors capable of giving a fine account of both these roles was remarkable and also helped the dramatic verisimilitude.  William Towers took Orlando 's taxing music including the famous mad scene, in his stride and whilst his martial costume gradually deteriorated to rags, his voice remained as fresh as ever.     Medoro is a gentler character, and Christopher Ainslie invested his singing with a particular sweetness, especially in his Act 2 aria Verdi allori.  Rebecca Ryan's voice perhaps lacked the ideal sharpness of attack for Angelica's curt dismissal of Orlando; it was ideal in the more lyrical passages and blended magnificently in her duets with Medoro .

Zoroastra , as presiding benevolent spirit, too often had to deliver his lines from rear of the stage, but once he was forward, Nicholas Warden's silky bass could be heard at his persuasive best. Portugese soprano Joana Seara, whose acting is as polished as her voice, managed both the sadness of Dorinda's love for Medoro (Quando spieghi tuo tormento) and her later cheerful acceptance that love is transient (Amor a qual vento) which she sang from the orchestra pit, in fine style.

Conductor Gary Cooper kept the orchestra well under control, especially after the departure of the brass players at the end of Act 1.

Lastly a few words of praise for the beautifully produced programme, informative and profusely illustrated, which was distributed without charge to each member of the audience.  

Serena Fenwick