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George Frideric Handel (born Halle, 23 February 1685; died London, 14 April 1759).

Anon, adapted from libretto L’Orlando by Carlo Sigismondo Capeci, first set by Domenico Scarlatti (1711).

Epic poem Orlando Furioso (1516) by Lodovico Ariosto (1474-1535).

First performance: London (King’s Theatre, Haymarket), 27 January 1733.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 8 May 1985.
Scottish Opera premiere: As above.

Orlando was one of a group of fantasy operas, including Ariodante and Alcina, derived from Ariosto’s epic poem, which had been a popular source from the early days of opera. These have been among the most successfully revived of Handel’s operas in modern times. They generally employ a small cast of extremely virtuosic singers and little or no chorus. Scenic demands are usually more spectacular than for the operas that preceded them, such as Giulio Cesare and Tamerlano, which featured serious historical characters, rather than figures of fantasy. Orlando was a particularly popular subject with other composers, and Vivaldi’s version of 1727 has also been shown to be well worthy of revival. Handel’s version is unusual, in that Orlando’s part is quite novel, with few arias, and a mad scene which requires great acting ability. The role of Zoroastro was introduced for Handel to provide a significant part for the great bass Montagnana, who was in his company at the time.

Orlando a knight (alto)
Angelica, Queen of Cathay, in love with Medoro (soprano)
Medoro, an African prince, in love with Angelica (alto)
Dorinda, a shepherdess, also in love with Medoro (soprano)
Zoroastro, a magician (bass)

Plot Summary
Zoroastro uses his observation of the stars to foretell Orlando’s glorious future. He is critical of Orlando, who seems more interested in love than glory. Angelica and Medoro have fallen in love while she nursed him back to health when he was wounded. Medoro is aware that Dorinda also loves him, so tells her that Angelica is a relation. Orlando also loves Angelica, but she accuses him of loving another princess he had rescued earlier. Dorinda now sees Angelica embracing Medoro, and the true situation is made clear to her, but they find they cannot console her. Orlando meets with Dorinda, who reveals that Angelica loves Medoro, and Orlando is furious at this betrayal. Zoroastro orders Angelica and Medoro to leave because of the effect their love has had on Orlando. When Orlando encounters them and pursues Angelica, Zoroastro makes her disappear, which drives Orlando mad. Zoroastro rescues him from this fit of insanity. Orlando later turns his attention to Dorinda. She is flattered, but it becomes clear that his wits are still addled, and Dorinda explains this to Angelica, who is sympathetic. It seems that in his mad frenzy Orlando has killed Medoro. He at last falls into an exhausted sleep, during which Zoroastro restores his sanity. On waking, he is appalled at his actions and contemplates suicide, but Angelica is able to assure him that Medoro survived, rescued by Zoroastro. He accepts that Angelica and Medoro will remain together, and all are reconciled.


OISEAU-LYRE (3 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1990

Conductor: Christopher Hogwood
Academy of Ancient Music
James Bowman (Orlando), Arleen Augér (Angelica), Emma Kirkby (Dorinda).

This recording seems to be the only one to cast a counter-tenor in the demanding title role. James Bowman gives a thoroughly involved dramatic performance, as he did when he sang the role in Scottish Opera’s 1985 staging, which was directed by Christopher Fettes and conducted by Richard Hickox. Arleen Augér and Emma Kirkby are always reliable in Handel, and everything they do sounds wonderfully natural and stylish. Catherine Robbin and David Thomas are just as affecting as Medoro and Zoroastro.

WARNER (6 bargain-price CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1996

Conductor: William Christie
Les Arts Florissants
Patricia Bardon (Orlando), Rosemary Joshua (Angelica), Rosa Mannion (Dorinda).

William Christie’s style in Handel conducting, characterised by a lightness of touch, suits the two works in this set particularly well. Some people may be reluctant to buy two operas, even at bargain price, but when the “filler” is a superb Alcina with a cast led by Renée Fleming, Natalie Dessay, and Susan Graham, it is hard to complain. The cast assembled for Orlando perhaps cost only a fraction of the Alcina team, but they produce an excellent result, led by Patricia Bardon in the title role. Her only staged opera in Scotland so far has been Carmen, but this performance is more reminiscent of a wonderful concert performance she gave in Edinburgh of Malcolm Graeme in Rossini’s Lady of the Lake. The two sopranos are known in Scotland more for their excellent Mozart, but their Handel is good too. Hilary Summers, the Medoro, is a true contralto without a wobble (her only Scottish Opera appearance was as a trenchant Valkyrie some years ago). Harry van der Kamp gives good support as Zoroastro.

PONTO (2 mid-price CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1963

Conductor: Arnold Goldsborough
English Chamber Orchestra
Janet Baker (Orlando), April Cantelo (Angelica), Heather Harper (Dorinda).

When this recording was made, Handel’s operas were still relatively unknown territory for opera performers and audiences in Britain. Covent Garden had recently done Alcina with Joan Sutherland, and also staged Samson, with Jon Vickers. But otherwise his operas were left to the fringe companies, led by the annual week at Sadler’s Wells by the Handel Opera Society. This recording is therefore of historic importance. The quality of the performance is surprisingly good in terms of consistency. We expect high quality from Janet Baker and Heather Harper, of course, but the others are good too. April Cantelo is remembered more for her work with Britten – she created Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and recorded Miss Wordsworth in Albert Herring – but she is an excellent Handel stylist. Pamela Bowden is a thoroughly reliable contralto. Also it is good to hear the Polish bass Stanislav Pieczora. He does not seem to have appeared in any other recordings, but was an important artist with Carl Rosa and Sadler’s Wells. His repertoire with them, including Scottish tours, ranged from Méphistophélès (Faust), and Don Basilio (The Barber of Seville) to Don Pizarro (Fidelio).

The Cast

 Queen of Cathay
 a shepherdess
 an African Prince
 a knight in the service of Charlemagne
 a magician

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