Live Reviews: Opera Theatre Company: Orlando

Christian Curnyn (cond.), Annilese Miskimmon (dir.), William Towers (Orlando), Natasha Jouhl (Angelica), Reno Troilus (Medoro), Mary Hegarty (Dorinda) & Jonathan Best (Zoroastro)The Helix, Dublin29 September 2007Opera Theatre Company’s latest offering,...

Christian Curnyn (cond.), Annilese Miskimmon (dir.), William Towers (Orlando), Natasha Jouhl (Angelica), Reno Troilus (Medoro), Mary Hegarty (Dorinda) & Jonathan Best (Zoroastro)
The Helix, Dublin
29 September 2007

Opera Theatre Company’s latest offering, Handel’s Orlando, is a production that leaves us in no doubt that Handel was the master of Baroque opera, boasting exceptional singing, acting and instrumental performance from start to finish. Written in 1732, and Handel’s last opera for the London theatre, Orlando is a work that reinforces the supremacy of drama in Handel’s concept of opera, a principle that director Annilese Miskimmon ensures is at the fore of this production. Though eighteenth-century performances of Handel opera frequently involved elaborate visual effects and complex staging, OTC’s revival of Orlando emphasises a less-is-more attitude to production. Maintaining a simple setting, Miskimmon shows her spot-on priorities in letting the music speak for itself. The production minimises changes of scenery, with the entire first and third acts taking place in a sparsely furnished institution and the middle act in a similarly minimalist forest scene; what we have here is consistently engaging music drama unencumbered by the paraphernalia of complex staging.

The original libretto by  Carlo Sigismondo Capece takes its story from Aristo’s Orlando Furioso and follows the trials of the soldier Orlando from unrequited love through to madness and ultimate resolution. OTC updates this historically based fantasy by situating the story in a modern mental institution where Orlando is receiving psychiatric treatment after his return from war, and the production strikes a perfect balance between the comic and the poignant. 

Sung in an English translation of the Italian libretto, this production offers the rare treat of having two countertenors to sing the roles of Orlando and Medoro. William Towers sings the title role with boldness and intensity – he achieves a compelling rendering of Orlando’s mad scene, and a heart-breaking portrayal of the straight-jacketed hero’s suffering in the penultimate scene. His is an energetic and fiery performance that captures the drama of psychological conflict and jealousy-driven madness. 

The ensemble singing, rare as it is in Handel opera, brought together a superb cast of singers; it is in combination that we fully appreciate their talents. The highlight was the concluding trio in Act 1, ‘Consolati o Bella’, in which Medoro and Angelica console the love-sick Dorinda. The expressive and eloquent singing showed that when good voices collaborate the effects can be magical.

Conductor Christian Curnyn directs a group of thirteen players with a meticulous command of tempo, drawing from the instrumental group a true modern-Baroque sound that was always sympathetic to the dramatic needs of the music. 

Published on 1 November 2007

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