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Orlando

Capece and Handel, after Ariosto

Liberata Collective with Ensemble Hesperi

Pavilion Arts Centre, Buxton

July 10-21, 2023. 2 hrs 25 mins


Angelica (Olivia Doutney) and Medoro (Joanna Harries) in Handel's Orlando All pics: David J King
Angelica (Olivia Doutney) and Medoro (Joanna Harries) in Handel's Orlando All pics: David J King

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I’ve always wondered what it was that Orlando had to be so furioso about. The 16th century poem of that two-word name gave rise to a number of dramatic compositions, and three of them are operas by Handel. This is the one that tells you what made him so mad. You’ve guessed it: woman trouble. Orlando the brave knight saved Princess Angelica from certain death, and then she went and married someone else. Worse still, there’s a girl called Dorinda who’s in love with the princess’s newly-acquired bloke, Medoro. Zoroastro the wizard gets involved, and two people end up dead before he restores them to life and puts all to rights.

Typical five-hander baroque opera plot, you may think, and you may be right. It’s seen as one of Handel’s greatest opera achievements now, largely on account of the mad scene in which Orlando really loses it and Handel breaks all the rules of conventional opera seria to evoke his unhingedness.

Liberata Collective is a company that performs baroque opera with a unique selling point: not only is the music played on period instruments and in period style, but the performers, in period dress, act in the way Handel’s would have. That means it’s anything but realistic, using a whole repertoire of movement and gesture that was the accepted style of the time and is quite close to balletic mime (and there’s some actual dancing, too).

Under conductor Adrian Butterfield, they’re a small group, and their accompanying instrumentalists, Ensemble Hesperi, are a string quartet plus harpsichord continuo and two others who can each play either recorder or oboe. So the score is reduced somewhat, but it works well enough, and this touring staging is presented in the Pavilion Arts Centre in Buxton, rather than the Opera House, though it’s part of the opera festival programme.

The five – Christian Joel, Joanna Harries, Olivia Doutney, Susanna MacRae and Jolyon Loy – do their stuff with skill and aplomb, though it has to be said that the most frequent audience reaction to their gesturing was mild amusement and I didn’t hear much of the vocal decoration that we’re led to believe was frequent in Handel’s time (the title role was first performed by Senesino, the celebrated castrato). But there’s a nice touch when one of the arias is all about a nightingale and Adrian Butterfield walks into the action, with violin a-playing, to represent its song.

Side-titles give a free English translation of the Italian libretto, and the set consist of two artificial “trees” covered with flowers – but not a leaf in sight, despite the textual references to laurels.


More info here. The work is listed as sold out



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