A somewhat disappointing staging of Handel’s Orlando at the Teatro Real

SpainSpain Handel, Orlando (HWV 31): Soloists, Teatro Real Orchestra / Ivor Bolton (conductor). Teatro Real, Madrid, 12.11.2023. (JMI)

Anthony Roth Costanzo (Medoro) and Anna Prohaska (Angelica) © J. del Real

Director – Claus Guth
Sets – Christian Schmidt
Costumes – Christian Schmidt
Lighting – Bernd Purkraber
Video – Roland Horvath

Orlando – Christophe Dumaux
Angelica – Anna Prohaska
Medoro – Anthony Roth Costanzo
Dorinda – Tal Ganor
Zoroastro – Florian Boesch

Orlando, Charlemagne’s companion in arms, held a great attraction for Baroque composers, and several operas are named after him. There is Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso and the Orlando by Handel covered here. And there is Orlando Paladino by Haydn which was just done at Teatro Real.

In recent years, Baroque operas have enjoyed a popularity they had not seen since the period of their composition. The often-criticized modern directors have had a lot to do with this with their original approaches.

I have seen this Handel opera on several occasions and remember two that were exceptional. In Munich in 2007 there was an original and comic version by David Alden and somewhat earlier I saw a wonderful Robert Carsen production in Reggio Emilia. Undoubtedly, the quality of the two stagings had a lot to do with the success they achieved.

Teatro Real’s Orlando © J. del Real

This Claus Guth version premiered at the Theater an der Wien in April 2019. The action is brought up to modern times, and the production focuses on Orlando’s loss of reason and his unjustified attacks on everyone. The plot is narrated well, but I missed some creativity – everything is a bit monotonous and even boring. There is a rotating modern block of modern flats with Orlando’s rather empty rooms and Medoro and Angelica’s flat, with a garage on the ground floor and a caravan at one side where Dorinda lives. As the set rotates, one sees an outside staircase with a profusion of plants, where some scenes take place. In front there is a small garden with some palm trees and benches.

The musical direction was entrusted to the chief conductor of the Teatro Real, Ivor Bolton. I expected a lot from him since I have in the past greatly enjoyed his readings of Baroque operas at the Teatro Real and in Munich. The truth is that his conducting fell short: it was a decent reading, but it lacked life and inspiration at times, especially in a rather flat Act I. Things improved in the next two acts, with moments worth highlighting. The Teatro Real Orchestra under his command was entirely satisfactory.

Orlando was sung by countertenor Christophe Dumaux. I do not find countertenor voices very appealing, although the quality of singers is often extraordinary. In this case, he did not strike me as anything exceptional, but he performed well on stage.

Angelica was sung by light soprano Anna Prohaska, who has a pleasing voice in the center, but it changes color and becomes tight on the highest notes. Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo as Medoro was adequate in the role.

Dorinda was to have been sung by soprano Giulia Semenzato, but she canceled at the last minute due to illness and was replaced in extremis by the young soprano Tal Ganor, who saved the performance. She has an attractive voice and did well on stage. Baritone Florian Boesch as Zoroastro was outstanding is his second act aria.

José M. Irurzun

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