The Royal Opera – Orlando

Orlando [Sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Orlando – Bejun Mehta
Angelica – Rosemary Joshua
Medoro – Anna Bonitatibus
Dorinda – Camilla Tilling
Zoroastro – Kyle Ketelsen

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Sir Charles Mackerras

Francisco Negrin – Director
Anthony Baker – Set designs
Wolfgang Göbbel – Lighting
Ana Yepes – Associate Director and Choreographer

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 26 February, 2007
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

The silliness which marred this production when it was new in 2003 remains. The worst aspect is the frequent incursion into the action of three mimed figures: Eros, Venus and Mars, just in case the members of the audience are too stupid to understand what the story is about. The most annoying of this unwelcome threesome is Eros, who wanders about and even confronts the singers, thus committing the unpardonable sin of drawing the audience’s attention away from those singers. I wish someone had shot Eros with one of his own arrows or, better still, with one less symbolic.

Fortunately, the musical side is far superior, conducted as it is by a renowned and highly experienced Handelian, Sir Charles Mackerras. In 2003, the countertenor Bejun Mehta had sung Medoro before moving up to Orlando when Alice Coote withdrew after a few performances. Mehta’s technique in rapid music is awesome, enabling him to produce a brilliant display of scintillating coloratura without sliding through or omitting notes. In slow arias he spun a long line of smooth tone. Thus his Orlando is expressive and varied, nowhere more so than in the mad-scene, which he delivered in subtle inflections and colourful contrasts while throwing himself around the set. Music by Handel usually flows easily, but this mad-scene is a kaleidoscope of changing patterns. As Andrew V. Jones writes in a knowledgeable essay in the programme, “like Orlando’s mind, nothing in the music is stable.”

The other male singer, as opposed to a singer in a male role, is Kyle Ketelsen as Zoroastro, whose presence on stage seemed ubiquitous, whether he was sitting on a chair or standing to one side on a balcony (unseen by many in the audience) as Zoroastro oversees or manipulates events. Ketelsen sang cleanly, with focused tones and no hint of an aspirate. The third male character, Medoro, introduced Anna Bonitatibus for her Covent Garden debut. In 2003, the role was assigned to a countertenor (Mehta first, then William Towers), but now we listened to a contralto (as Handel had cast it for the premiere in 1733). Warm of tone and effortless of delivery, Bonitatibus sang well on her own and blended sweetly with the two sopranos in the delightful trio ‘Consolati, o bella” in Act One. (Did all her quiet singing carry to the back of the amphitheatre?) It was a successful debut.

Both the sopranos give winning performance. Camilla Tilling returned to her role of Dorinda with freshness and vitality. Dorinda’s love for Medoro may not have been reciprocated, but the audience loved Tilling, who presented both a charming personality and some elegant singing. Orlando’s love is for Angelica, who was sung with fluency by Rosemary Joshua, showing again what a fine Handel-singer she is, both in phrasing, technique, vocal quality and smooth emission of tone.

I would suggest that, overall, the cast is that bit stronger than in the previous run. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment brings stylish playing and very attractive sound under Mackerras, who shapes the music eloquently and with a refined touch.

This is a fine musical performance, which all Handelians should hear, and would have been even better had the people on stage been limited to Handel’s five.

  • Remaining performances on 1, 7, 9 & 13 March at 7 o’clock; and on 3 March at 6.30
  • Box office: 020 7304 4000
  • Royal Opera

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