Archive for the ‘Joseph Haydn’ Category

Orlando Paladino

August 15, 2011

Modern-day tycoons tend to indulge in imitating their distant historical predecessors in power and wealth. From time to time the tabloids and society pages of today write about a party where a world-class celebrity musician has been entertaining his guests. The Esterházys were tycoons of a different time when private jets, yachts etc. were not yet invented grease for the human vanity. The Esterházys had a private theatre built and Haydn was a resident composer in the middle of nowhere, having peace, quiet and liberty to do whatever he wanted.

This charming and lovable production was staged at the Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden in May 2009 to mark the 200th anniversary of Joseph Haydn’s death.

The booklet that comes with the DVD Orlando Paladino, says that the court Music Master Joseph Haydn was to contribute to the grandeur of Prince Esterházy with an opera performance for the anticipated visit by a Russian royal couple. The occasion warranted high order since it was a visit by a Russian Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich (later the tsar of Russia) and his wife the Princess of Württemberg, Maria Fjodorovna.

The plot of Orlando Paladino was based on the famous mediæval heroic comedy Orlando Furioso, one of the lengthiest epics written. Lodovico Ariosto wrote the poem based on Orlando Innamorato, written by Matteo Maria Boiardo early in the 16th century.  The librettist Nunziato Porta put together a story inspired by both poetic pieces, which takes place with the backdrop of the struggle between Charlemagne and Saracens. The opera was premiered at the end of the 18th century. At the centre of the Orlando Paladino plot is mad knight Orlando’s raging pursuit after Angelica, the queen of Cathay (the traditional name for China) and her beloved Saracen Medoro. To the aid of the lovers comes Rodomonte, another Saracen. With her magic spells a sorceress Alcina makes Orlando chalk the whole thing up and forget about it, while the lovers live happily ever after. In the presentday friction between European Muslim peregrines and Christian citizens this opera may regain its freshness and currency from a completely different angle, and with a Chinese monarch arriving in the fray…the mind boggles. But this production is directed towards jovial and entertaining.

The stage direction and choreography was a result of a smashing collaboration between Nigel Lowry and Amir Hoseinpour drawing out juices of parody, sarcasm, and plain entertainment from this heroic-comedy. It has been almost two decades since Amir Hoseinpour and Nigel Lowry teamed up their creative resources. In this tale of mock chivalry, bathos, and elements of Buster Keaton gags, the characters transcend the historical context. They display universal human traits in a charming and amusing way.  

In the role of the shepardess Eurilla, costumed in a uniform resembling a security guard or a customs officer, appears the  brilliant Korean soprano Sunhae Im, who is almost constantly on the stage firmly grounded in her role bringing up humorous flavours with superb acting and singing. Italian baritone Pietro Spagnoli appears as Rodomonte, the king of Barbaria. Rodomonte, a braggart who comes to protect the lovers, is perhaps the best defined character. Special praise to the costume designer who equipped Rodomonte with a red military overcoat, a pirate red headscarf and the inevitable eye patch, holding a crutch in one arm and waving a sabre in the other. He pulls readily available press clippings from his pocket and a pair of reading glasses to document his many victories. To save the memorable moment he pulls out a digital camera so that Eurilla may take a picture of his heroic pose. Rodomonte could blend in nicely with the troupe of the Pirates of the Caribbean.


Pietro Spagnoli as Rodomante and Sunhae Im as Eurilla


The  Norwegian tenor Magnus Staveland, only a year after his graduation from the Royal Opera Academy in Copenhagen, appeared as Medoro. In spite of his youth Mr. Staveland delivered his role with a confident but gentle lyrical touch.

Orlando’s character was shaped up with a literal approach to his fury and madness. The internet biography of the British tenor Tom Randle shows a very dynamic schedule and his repertoire covers a wide range from baroque to contemporary music. The transformation his Orlando undergoes from a madman to an oblivious, self-content military officer is truly remarkable and proves Mr. Randle to be a great stage persona.

A German coloratura soprano Marlis Petersen delivers her Angelica as a blond, delicate, vulnerable woman in a little black dress in need of a cavalier. Her voice combines a powerful  with emotional depth. Ms. Petersen was a winner of six piano competitions before she went to study music, flute, singing and acting. In 2010 she accepted the challenge to assume the role of Ophelia (Natalie Dessay cancelled due to illness) and appeared with great success on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera New York.  This unexpected engagement came at the end of her demanding schedule in Vienna, where she appeared in the role of Medea. As she was preparing to take a vacation, the offer from New York came. In the matter of a few days Ms. Petersen managed to learn the role from scratch and appear at Metropolitan Opera New York pleasing the reviewers and audience.

 The Bulgarian soprano Alexandrina Pendantchanska who appears in the role of Alcina started her singing career at the age of 17 in the role of Violeta in La Traviata. Her voice has  an electrifying piercing, dark hue, especially in the upper register. Her low notes tend to lose edge and acquire a trembling rolling quality with a taste of bitter wrath, as if coming from the depth of uncharted territories of great suffering, from which she effortlessly soars to the heights of commanding presence. Ms. Pendantchanska’s natural regal beauty was an asset in her role of Alcina, presented as a simple but powerful magician.

 Argentinian-born baritone, Victor Torres, appears as Pasquale, Orlando’s valet, a coward and braggart on a lesser scale than Rodomonte. Mr. Torres took advantage of his bulky physique for this role.

 The Finnish baritone Arttu Kataya appeared in two roles as the shepherd Licone and ferryman to the underworld.

 In addition to the main characters the creative team introduced a group of silent characters appearing individually or as a disparate group, including a bishop, a butcher, a stewardess with a beard, a ballerina with mustache, and a  toreador, playing out in the second plane the unconscious emotional baggage of the main characters.

The Freiburger Barockorchester under the conductor René Jacobs played this score with solemn splendour appropriate for baroque music.