An outstanding Julia Lezhneva in Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso, performed for the first time at Teatro Real

SpainSpain Vivaldi, Orlando Furioso (concert performance): Armonia Atenea Orchestra / George Petrou (conductor). Teatro Real, Madrid, 17. 6. 2021. (JMI)

Teatro Real’s Orlando Furioso (c) J. del Real

Orlando – Max Emanuel Cencic
Angelica – Julia Lezhneva
Alcina – Ruxandra Donose
Bradamante – Jess Dandy
Medoro – Philipp Mathmann
Ruggiero – David DQ Lee
Astolfo – Pavel Kudinov

Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso arrived at Teatro Real for the first time, although we have been able to see it before in Spain, and even in Madrid where it was staged in October 2011 by the National Center for Musical Diffusion. On that earlier occasion too, it was in concert form; it took place in the Music Auditorium, under Jean-Christophe Spinosi and his Ensemble Matheus. I have a magnificent memory of that particular concert.

This time around the interpretation came from Greek conductor George Petrou at the head of his Armonia Atenea. His leadership was quite good, although he sometimes lacks Spinosi’s imagination. In any case, he showed that he knows the work perfectly, conducting at times from the harpsichord. The orchestra was noteworthy, with a sound that is well suited to Baroque music. The cast, however, was somewhat uneven: there were brilliant performers and a few rather modest ones.

Orlando, the protagonist who gives title to the opera, was sung by Max Emanuel Cencic. The role is often played by a mezzo-soprano, but on this occasion a countertenor was cast in the part. Generally, a countertenor is noted for great coloratura, but there are not many difficulties that Orlando has to face in this opera. Cencic’s performance, his musicality and expressiveness, were admirable, but I missed a greater vocal beauty. I prefer a mezzo-soprano in the role.

Soprano Julia Lezhneva in the role of Angelica had the big triumph of the night: her performance was magnificent from beginning to end. She offered an attractive and perfectly projected voice, homogeneous throughout the whole tessitura, standing out especially in coloratura and singing with much expressiveness. The biggest ovations of the night were for her, and they were well deserved.

The character of Alcina has a great importance in this opera, with no less than five arias to sing. Mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Donose did nicely though without any special sparkle. I don’t think that Baroque is the most appropriate music for her. Bradamante was played by alto Jess Dandy, who is rather weak in the lower register and had difficulty reaching the audience.

Ruggiero was interpreted by countertenor David DQ Lee, whom I had already heard in the role in Bilbao ten years ago. His interpretation then was splendid, and the same can be said now. His voice is more beautiful than those of many of his colleagues, and he is an excellent singer.

Another countertenor, Philipp Mathmann, played Medoro, and I found him unconvincing. Finally, Pavel Kudinov sang well and brought Astolfo to life.

This was the only concert of the opera, and Teatro Real was sold out. The biggest ovations of the night went for Julia Lezhneva, especially in her big Act II aria. David DQ Lee also received cheers for his aria in the first act; accompanied by flute, it was a really beautiful passage.

Jose M. Irurzun

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