Orlando Furioso at the Barbican Hall, 25/03/2011
About an hour and a half before “curtain up” of the concert performance Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso, the BBC Radio 3 producer and the musical director of the Lufthanza Festival of Baroque Music Lindsay Kemp, gave a talk about the work we were about to here in the Barbican Hall later on. He concentrated on Ariosti’s 38,000-line poem and how most of the composers only used one thread, or one plot line as it were. Handel for example made three operas out of it, Alcina, Orlando and Ariodante. Vivaldi used two interweaving plot lines, i.e. Orlando, Angelica, Medoro and Alcina, Ruggiero, Bradamante. The talk was quite informative and educational. Orlando Furioso is apparently an opera that was going towards the new more fashionable form of opera seria of Neapoletan style. In Orlando Furioso, Vivaldi employes combinations of recitativo and arioso to drive the plot forwards as well as giving the characters both short and long arias. Frédéric Delaméa’s essay in the booklet of the recording of this opera gives even more information about the context, the circumstances, etc. I do wonder if there will be a book published with all his writings about Vivaldi’s operatic output.
The main story of Orlando Furioso revolves around the madness of Orlando triggered by the unrequited love of Angelica. I am not even going to attempt to describe what happens in each of the three acts of the opera. When Orlando after trying to fetch the youth-preserving elixir for Angelica (so vain), he sees a tree onto which Angelica’s and Ruggiero’s names are carved, he goes mad. This mad scene is really mad. More about it later. The cast of Orlando Furioso was as follows:
Marie-Nicole Lemieux ORLANDO
Veronica Cangemi ANGELICA
Franziska Gottwald ALCINA
Philippe Jaroussky RUGGIERO
Daniela Pini MEDORO
Christian Senn ASTOLFO
Kristina Hammarström BRADAMANTE
Jean-Christophe Spinosi Conductor
This is second year in a row, I have a chance to see Vivaldi opera at the Barbican. Unfortunately, no Vivaldi opera in 2011/2012 season, which is a shame. The performance was great, full of so much energy, that caused violin strings to break, music stands to be knocked. Spinosi jumps up and down when he conducts and conducts so energetically that at one point he rotated with his right hand the music stand of the celli. The orchestra was a bit strangely arranged on the stage and the back row violins had trouble seeing him. Spinosi had to maneuver the singers all the time so that the orchestra can see him which caused some distraction. It is interesting how in the first ten minutes of the performance one needs to accustom one’s ear to the sound of a period instrument orchestra. There is some controversy around the internet about Spinosi’s approach to Vivaldi, but I will not go into that discussion here. Each instrumentalist plays with lots of passion and their whole body moves whilst phrasing. The second violin of the first, broke a string. He insisted to restring it himself, with a spare one that travelled from the back row. This happened in Act One and was a bit scary to watch.
The last minute replacements (Daniela Prini for Romina Basso and Franziska Gottwald for Jennifer Larmore) had to resort to their scores, which somewhat distracted from the drama and yet both of them sung beautifully. Franziska could have been a bit more dramatic in Act three ending. I love Daniela Prini’s voice and would love to hear her again. Marie-Nicole Lemieux is totally mad Orlando. Even though she is supposed to sing a male character, she didn’t resort to butching it up for the sake of the fact that she is supposed to be male. Wide ranged voice full of resonant bottom. Lemieux produced some almost baritonal sounds and then jumped two octaves up (albeit a tad on the flat side, but I forgive her for that). The way she sings fast coloratura with her whole body shaking makes the tone loose some of its resonance. She made Orlando almost comical in the mad scene. I so wish I saw this fully staged. She manages to bring all sorts of layers from Orlando’s character. Rushes off stage, rushes back again, threatens the conductor… At one point she sits on the floor and sulks like a little boy whose favourite toy has been taken away from him. When Angelica tries to bring him to his senses, kneeling down to his knees, is a very magical moment.
This was my third time seeing Veronica Cangemi live. I saw her last year in Ottone in Villa, and recently in Alcina. Her voice is unique, her pianissimi unforgettable. She was in excellent form and played masterfully the manipulating Angelica. What a surprise was Jaroussky for me. Listening to his CDs and watching YouTube videos misled me into thinking that his voice is tiny, too sweet and sickly, but I was so wrong. His voice is full of resonance, his stage presence captivating. When he sang Sol da te, mio dolce amore in Act one, he brought me to tears. Was enough to make my ticket worth. (Shame I found out too late for his Wigmore Hall appearance in a couple of weeks, concert is sold out). Near the end of the opera, he got a bit tired and one could see that he was losing his breath control, and the notes were sounding a tad shallow, still bang in tune.
Christian Senn as Astolfo and Kristina Hammarström as the female warrior Bradamante were no less impressive. Senn is not as good as Lorenzo Regazzo in this role, but still a good voice with a solid technique with great stage presence. Hammarström portraid the fierce Bradamante perfectly. Here are some pictures of the evening and a curtain call.
MORE VIVALDI OPERA IN LONDON PLEASE!!!!!