Handel

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Archiv Produktion
ALBUM TITLE: Handel: Orlando
WORKS: Orlando
PERFORMER: Bejun Mehta, Sophie Karthäuser, Kristina Hammarstrom, Sunhae Im, Konstantin Wolff; B’Rock Orchestra Ghent/René Jacobs
CATALOGUE NO: 479 2199

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Orlando (1733) is one of two ‘magic’ operas – Alcina is the other – that Handel composed and staged in London during the 1730s. Librettist Carlo Capece based his text on episodes in Ariosto’s famous epic poem Orlando furioso. The differences between source and adaptation are considerable: Handel introduced an important comic element, notably in the generous spirited shepherdess, Dorinda, in whom he invests greater importance than did Capece, and he created for his bass Antonio Montagnana the splendid magical role of Zoroastro. The plot pivots on Orlando’s jealousy and eventually healed madness, but its allegory, in which ordeals put character to the test, brings Mozart’s Magic Flute to mind.

Handel’s title role was created by the arrogant alto castrato Senesino, a stellar attraction in several of the composer’s operas. Bejun Mehta brings lively characterisation to the mythical hero’s subtle duality. If the uppermost notes of his vocal range sound a little pinched, there is ample compensation in bravura passagework where every detail is in place and every phrase gracefully articulated. His famous aria ‘Vaghe pupille’ at the close of the Second Act comes over with tenderness and expressive warmth.

The remainder of the cast makes a strong showing, though I sometimes found Sophie Karthäuser’s Angelica tonally hard-edged and with too wide a vibrato. Sunhae Im brings youthful playfulness to the role of Dorinda. Her athletic technique does justice to ‘Amor è qual vento’ (Act III) and ‘O care parolette’ (Act I). Konstantin Wolff’s Zoroastro is authoritative and Kristina Hammarström’s performance (Medoro) is pleasing; her terzetto with Angelica and Dorinda at the end of Act I is among many delights in a fine production. All is well-paced under René Jacobs’s direction with a fine contribution from the B’Rock orchestra.

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Nicholas Anderson