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Kyle Ketelson has a good focussed bass voice with the flexibility and line to make the most of Handel's arias written for the superb bass Montagnana. This latter had an extraordinary wide range and Ketelson's main weakness was a lack of adequate resonance in his lower register. But he coped remarkably well with the task set him by Handel. This vocal style seemed to reflect in his performance where his Zoroastro was perhaps more flexible, less fearfully imposing than some performances. He did not seem to provide the towering, dominant presence needed when he was on stage, though from a musical point of view his performance was fine.

During the first run, I found that Alice Coote's performance from the end of Act 2 (when Orlando goes mad) was musically artful rather than moving -- to be admired rather then to stir you. Mehta succeeded in making us really feel for Orlando. At the end of Act 2, you felt he really did descend into madness, without ever breaking baroque conventions musically. After all, Handel's mad scene exploits the use of the unexpected rather than using Donizetti's virtuoso coloratura.

This feeling of madness continued into Act 3 and the whole of this act was profoundly moving, as if Orlando's madness cast a pall over all of the players on stage.

This highly satisfying performance was presided over by the ever youthful Sir Charles Mackerras in the pit, conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Mackerras used a pretty big band, suitable for Covent Garden's large spaces. I noted that he also had his recorder players doubling oboes to provide himself with four oboes in the concerted passages. Again this worked very well for the orchestral balance in this big space, with the band never overwhelming the singers either. Mackerras is a truly experienced Handelian and well used to achieving period-aware performances with singers and players from a mixture of musical backgrounds. The results were superb and I could only wish that the Royal Opera House had an ROH Live label like the London Symphony Orchestra so that we could take the whole thing home with us.

Negrin's production remains rather over-busy, but it is a busyness born of trying to tell a story. Though he is not averse to entertaining as well. Whilst I would perhaps have liked less stage movement and a few more austere moments, I have to admit that the production was popular and the house pretty well near full. Which is no bad achievement.

Copyright © 13 March 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK




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