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A Bare-bones "Orlando" from the Washington Concert Opera

November 8, 2006

Bejun Mehta as Orlando
The Washington Post, 11/08/06: 
There’s a lot to be said for paring opera down to its bare bones. Get rid of all the stagey excess –the glittering costumes, the prancing supernumeraries, the, um, “acting” of the divas, even the set itself – and the music can emerge unscathed.

That’s the philosophy of the Washington Concert Opera, and their production of George Frideric Handel’s 1733 “Orlando” on Sunday at Lisner Auditorium would make a believer out of the most hidebound traditionalist. On an elegantly minimalist stage, artistic director Antony Walker led a small orchestra of period instruments and five exceptionally fine singers through this relentlessly inventive masterpiece – and the result was an unqualified triumph. 
The actual story (from Ludovico Ariosto’s epic “Orlando Furioso”) is silliness itself -- warriors do battle, maidens sigh and conspire, madness descends and a benevolent wizard finally saves the day.  Other producers have tried to modernize the tale (Peter Sellars once set part of it on Mars), but Walker’s direct approach revealed just how musically adventurous and psychologically astute this opera really is.

Walker drew a crisp and electric performance from the orchestra, but the soloists were no less compelling – particularly Bejun Mehta in the title role.  It’s not easy to play a ferocious warrior when you’re singing falsetto, but Mehta -- one of the finest countertenors around – brought it off with aplomb and understated wit.  The young soprano Sarah Jane McMahon sang Dorinda with fetching charm and a lovely, agile voice, while soprano Nathalie Paulin brought fiery power to the role of Angelica. Countertenor David Walker made a very fine Medoro, and David Pittsinger – the sole low voice in the ensemble – balanced the forces with his commanding baritone.

Posted on Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 04:49PM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | Comments2 Comments

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Reader Comments (2)

And don't forget that you have two chances to see Mr. Mehta in recital this Saturday and Sunday at the JCC of Greater Washington in Rockville: www.jccgw.org/music.
November 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
I wonder if you have actually taken the time to read "Orlando Furioso." There are many adjectives to describe the epic work, but silliness is not one I would choose. Nor would I use that word to describe its predecessor "Orlando Innamorato."

Both are tales with an incredibly vast cast of characters and myriad of plotlines. These poems were written as entertainment for the wealthy family of Este in Italy. And, although both poets (Boiardo and Ariosto) borrowed heavily from other sources such as Greek Mythology, their works have been incredibly influential. I can see direct parallels (or just downright lifting) of plotlines used later by Shakespeare.

Yes, warriors fight, but there is more, much more than just maidens sighing and conspiring.

Bradamante and Marfisa are both powerful independent women warriors, long before it was fashionable or trendy to have fierce female characters.

I haven't seen any of the operas based on the poems, but part of that is due to bad luck that none in my vacinity have performed them, and second that I would be reluctant to see a truncated version of a masterpiece.

I've seen more than my share of novels butchered as they've been translated to the screen. I'd hate to see the same done with this story unless it was done in small digestible pieces to do it justice. Maybe a series on HBO like "Rome."
November 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterL.C. McCabe

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