|Brennan Hall, Anya Matanovič, Kiera Duffy, and Hadleigh Adams
If you attended Händel's Orlando last night at the WhiteboxLab/Sound Lounge and closed your eyes you would have heard five truly magnificent voices and a wonderful chamber orchestra making marvelous music. But then you might have missed the point.
Director R.B. Schlather has taken on an ambitious project--presenting three Händel operas adapted from Ludovico Ariosto's epic Orlando Furioso. We thoroughly enjoyed the first entry Alcina (review available from our archives by using the search bar) and were eager for his Orlando, composed by Händel in 1733. This groundbreaking opera was not a popular success at that time and lay dormant for over two centuries. It's first American appearance was at Carnegie Hall in 1971.
Popular success arrived this week at the WhiteboxLab/Sound Lounge. Mr. Schlather's idea was to bring opera downtown and to highlight the actual process of creation of the opera as well as the final product. Rehearsals were live-streamed and also open to the public. Sadly, our schedule permitted only attendance for the live performance.
The playing area ran the length of the long room on an elevated platform with the seating of the audience in similar configuration so no one was far from the "stage". To the rear was the excellent chamber orchestra, sensitively led by Music Director Geoffrey McDonald who magically managed to define all the instrumental lines--using only his bare expressive hands and, at one point, exhibiting his bare chest as well. The listening experience was like getting close to a fabric and being able to recognize each thread composing the pattern.
Instruments of the baroque period were in evidence and continuo was provided by harpsichordist Elliot Figg. There were some magical moments as when soprano Anya Matanovič in the role of Dorinda produced a stunning trill and the harpsichord echoed her trill. When Angelica (soprano Kiera Duffy) and Medoro (countertenor Brennan Hall) reminisce about the woods where they first fell in love, woodland sounds could be heard in the orchestra.
The story is silly and a straight presentation would never fly. The knight Orlando is obsessively in love with the princess Angelica who (of course) loves another--the Moorish prince Medoro whose wounds she healed in the cave of the shepherdess Dorinda. Of course, Dorinda also loves Medoro. Orlando (countertenor Drew Minter) goes mad but is restored by the magician Zoroaster, performed by baritone Hadleigh Adams, who had enough strength in the lower register to qualify as a bass-baritone.
Mr. Schlather's daring direction and Terese Wadden's costume design presented these characters as denizens of downtown when downtown was delightfully decadent. Mr. Minter appeared as a derelict in pajamas under his street clothes and a raincoat on top. He looked frightfully seedy and disheveled. No wonder Angelica didn't love him! His last act aria "Vaghe pupille" was movingly delivered.
The role of Angelica was performed by Kiera Duffy whose bright soprano handily nailed Händel's embellishments. There was something uniquely affecting about the timbre of her voice with its just-right vibrato. She wore a short fur, straight out of a 70's thrift shop.
Dorinda's character was finely portrayed by Anya Matanovič; her lustrous soprano nicely served the character. When she sang about a nightingale in "Quando spieghi tuoi tormenti" she sounded like one. She sat for a long period of time behind a potted palm dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. Her consolation prize for losing Medora was....a Yankees pin and a cake provided by Zoroaster which she iced in blue. Musically, the trio "Consolati, o bella" for the two sopranos and Mr. Hall, was one of the highlights.
Zoroaster, being a magician, appeared in many guises, among them a Hell's Angel type motorcycle dude, Santa Claus, and a patissier. Then he appeared in a "onesie" looking like a serpent. Then he showed up in white body paint. None of this distracted from his marvelously resonant voice as he sang "Sorge infausta una procella", another musical highlight.
Medoro merited no such costume extravagance, dressed simply in casual street clothes. His countertenor is sweet, pure, and youthful. His marvelous aria "Verdi allori" showed off his musicianship as well as his voice.
Paul Tate dePoo designed the set--a simple wooden bench with five spaces--and JAX Messenger was responsible for the apt lighting. Excellent titles by Jude Tietjen were projected on the far right and far left walls. This was uncomfortable to negotiate but fortunately the singers' Italian diction was so fine that the titles became superfluous.
The opera concludes with Zoroaster having restored Orlando's sanity and successfully gotten him to follow Mars instead of Venus. We left the Whitebox space somewhat dazzled and eager for the third entry in the trilogy--Ariodante. We are always overjoyed to see new iterations of old forms. Stay tuned!
(c) meche kroop