|The splendid cast of Orlando Paladino (photo by Carol Rosegg)|
We have never seen/heard an opera at Manhattan School of Music that we haven't enjoyed but their production of Joseph Haydn's Orlando Paladino absolutely blew us away with its originality and creativity. The chorus has been eliminated along with extraneous characters and the entire affair has been tightened up to a brisk 2 1/2 hours that absolutely flew by.
The libretto by Nunziato Porta was based on another libretto by P. A. Guglielmi which was, in turn, inspired by Ariosto's 16th c. epic poem Orlando furioso. Poor Ariosto would not have been able to recognize his own work. But the music is a constant.
Astute director Robin Guarino settled on a concept of presenting the work as a reality show. She was inspired by an article in the New Yorker by Andrew Marantz describing the impact on our culture of technology, surveillance, reality television and instant celebrity, particularly as it affects psychosis. If you recall a film called The Truman Show about a man who lives his life inside a TV show, you will get the concept.
So...gone are the shepherds and palaces and woods. Scenic Designer Laura Jellinek has created the set of a reality TV show with cameras in place and techies running around setting things up. Some of them are characters in the opera. This provides an opportunity to skewer the cult of celebrity as the stars preen and pose or sulk and look bored between "takes". We wouldn't want to spoil the fun by telling you about all the sight gags.
Lighting Designer Mark Barton has used brightly colored washes of light to highlight the content of each scene and Gabriel Berry's costumes are witty and a propos.
The story is simple but made complicated. Angelica (the divine soprano Leela Subramaniam) is in love with Medoro (excellent tenor Thomas Mulder). Rodomonte (big beautiful baritone Kidon Choi) also cares for her and would protect her from the certifiably crazy and delusional Orlando (terrific tenor Elliott Paige).
His squire Pasquale is, in this case, one of the techies and performed by the incomparable scene-stealer baritone Cameron Johnson whose body is as flexible as his voice. He has a romance going with Eurilla, no longer a shepherdess but here the script girl; soprano Kerstin Bauer creates a winsome character with a lovely voice. The sorceress Alcina has been transformed into an elegant and powerful player who solves all the problems, including ordering ECT for the uncontrollably mad Orlando. This is a perfect role for the stunning soprano Margaret Newcombe. The final scene takes place in a mental hospital.
This hilarious silliness is accompanied by Haydn's gorgeous tunes. Conductor Christian Capocaccia brought the fine MSM musicians to a peak of performance with Marcello Cormio providing the continuo. Vocal performances were universally superb with arias, duets and ensembles to add variety. The frantic septet made one think of Rossini and the final moralistic summing up reminded one of Mozart.
The same superlative cast will perform at the Sunday matinee but if you are inclined to attend Friday night, you have our assurance that you won't be disappointed. We had the opportunity at the pre-performance presentation to hear Jessica Grzanna and Terence Stone sing a tender love duet and baritone Xiaomeng Zhang give a different but equally wonderful interpretation of the combative Rodomonte. We also heard cover Paul-Anthony Keightley sing a wonderful Pasquale with a great deal of personality.
It was interesting to learn how Ms. Guarino evoked such authentic performances from the singers. She had them translate their parts and to speak them in contemporary lingo. It apparently worked incredibly well.
To anyone who doesn't believe that opera can be fun, we recommend this production as a remedial experience. Were we not otherwise committed, we would return for the next two performances. We recommend that you beg, borrow or steal a ticket. Performances of such high value do not happen every weekend!
© meche kroop