Haydn: Orlando Paladino

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: EuroArts
WORKS: Orlando Paladino
PERFORMER: Marlis Petersen, Pietro Spagnoli, Magnus Staveland, Alexandrina Pendatchanska, Tom Randle, Sunhae Im, Victor Torres, Arttu Kataja; Freiburger Barockorchester/René Jacobs; dir. Nigel Lowery & Amir Hosseinpour (Berlin, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: 2057788 (NTSC system; PCM stereo; 16:9 picture format)

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 Haydn’s 1782 opera travelled widely in his lifetime and comes up well in this Berlin staging put on for last year’s bicentenary. It’s couched in the unusual genre of dramma eroicomico (mock-heroic) which matches the childlike, caricatured approach adopted by designer/director Nigel Lowery, resulting in visuals looking like a cross between a children’s pop-up book and a pantomime.

The original story, from the Italian author Ariosto, presents the madness of the paladin Orlando, frustrated by his beloved Angelica’s lack of interest in him, and was much set by 18th-century composers, including Handel. A parody version such as this presents the familiar characters and situations while viewing them from a comic perspective. No wonder audiences lapped it up.

They will have enjoyed Haydn’s varied score, too. Though his operatic work is inevitably overshadowed by Mozart’s achievements, in this piece the flow of fine arias is constant, only interrupted by some dynamic finales that the younger composer himself might have been proud of. Anyone doubting Haydn’s validity as an opera composer should try this.

The more so, because the vocal performances are consistently good. In the title role, Tom Randle’s inventive vocalism and detailed physicality see him through a sequence of mad scenes. Marlis Petersen’s Angelica is secure and expressive in her coloratura flights.

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As Alcina, Alexandrina Pendatchanska’s darkly flamboyant performance nicely presents the character’s magical potency, and there are good buffo turns from Sunhae Im’s Eurilla and Victor Torres’s Pasquale. René Jacobs and the Freiburg players ensure light textures and liveliness throughout. George Hall