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Exploiting the Unexpected

Handel's 'Orlando' from Covent Garden,
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


The Royal Opera's 2003 production of Handel's Orlando was sufficiently successful for it to be welcome back in a slightly revised incarnation (seen Friday 8 March 2007). After all, Covent Garden's track record with Handelian opera seria is hardly a good one -- I still have painful memories of the 'blasted-heath' production of Alcina which they mounted for Yvonne Kenny.

Francisco Negrin had made some revisions to his production but the basic premise remained the same, with the opposition between love and glory made explicit via the omnipresent dancers representing Mars, Venus and Cupid. Whilst there were moments when I found this distracting, I could understand his reasoning, and nothing he did went counter to the general tenor of the opera itself, unlike some of David McVicar's entertainments in his productions of Agrippina (ENO) and Giulio Cesare (Glyndebourne).

The revised casting for this revival meant that there were improvements in the vocal elements as well. Counter tenor Bejun Mehta, who sang Medoro in 2003, moved up to the title role; though in fact he stood in for Alice Coote during the 2003 run. Rosemary Joshua sang Angelica (Barbara Bonney sang the role in 2003) and Anna Bonitatibus was Medoro. Camilla Tilling repeated her winning performance as the shepherdess Dorinda. Kyle Ketelsen was the magician Zoroastro.

Orlando was the last role which the alto castrato Senesino created for Handel; the programme book speculates that the unusual nature of the role (mad scene, few real arias) exacerbated the split. Senesino had a fabulous technique but a limited range and rather low voice. This meant that in 2003 the part seemed to lie a little low for Alice Coote; it remains a source of puzzlement that the Royal Opera would mount a Handel production for Coote in which she sang a role slightly too low for comfort, instead of one of the many other more suitable Handel roles available.

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Copyright © 13 March 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK


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