ALBUM TITLE: Handel: Orlando
PERFORMER: Owen Willetts; Karina Gauvin; Allyson McHardy; Amanda Forsythe; Nathan Berg; Pacific Baroque Orchestra/Alexander Weimann
CATALOGUE NO: ACD2 2678
Orlando is now regarded as one of Handel’s finest operas, although it achieved only limited success on its premiere production in 1733 when it was staged at the King’s Theatre in London. With a background in an epic fantasy by the Italian Renaissance poet Ariosto, it concentrates on the frustrated love-life of the eponymous semi-legendary hero (loosely based on an officer, Roland, in Charlemagne’s army). While he longs for the princess Angelica, she longs for her Saracen lover Medoro, as does (unhelpfully) the shepherdess Dorinda; the magician Zoroastro, meanwhile, predicting only unhappiness in Orlando’s unrequited passion, tries to steer him back towards the warrior’s lifestyle for which he seems rather better qualified.
There’s not a weak number in the piece, and Orlando’s mad scene is justly famous. Here countertenor Owen Willetts’s smooth, somewhat melancholy tone proves musically appealing but dramatically less convincing; he does not fully succeed in dominating the opera named after him. Soprano Karina Gauvin’s Angelica is more motivated and mostly cleanly sung, though she’s not always ideally secure. Soprano Amanda Forsythe’s Dorinda scores more highly both technically and interpretatively, adding genuine human warmth to a sparkly bright tone nicely suited to her spirited character. Allyson McHardy makes an appealing Medoro, her solid mezzo spiced with a fluttery quality. Nathan Berg’s bass-baritone feels on the light side for Zoroastro – a role designed for a true bass; but he has all the notes and delivers them with appropriate solemnity.
Conductor Alexander Weimann draws spry, characterful playing from his period-instrument band, though the sound could do with more separation. The libretto is supplied in tiny print and the stage directions have been discarded.