Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso is based, like so many operas, on an episode in Ariosto’s work of the same name. In this case it relates the events that take place during Orlandos stay on the enchanted island of the sorceress Alcina. There are two love triangles, enchantments and Orlando goes mad before order is restored, the island is disenchanted and Alcina, as befits a woman who gets uppity in an eighteenth century opera, is restored to her rightful place in the Outer Darkness. Structurally it’s pretty typical of the period with a lot of showy arias in a variety of forms plus a couple of decent choruses.
In Pierre Audi’s production the magical and spectacular is heavily deemphasized in favour of the human relations. For the first two acts the scenery consists mainly of oversized furniture, characters are dressed in a vaguely 18th century style and there are no spectacular effects. There’s not a hippogriff to be seen. It’s also almost monochromatically blue and very dark. In act 3 it goes sort of black and pink and everybody is rather dishevelled with dark circles round their eyes. It’s still very dark. This is the bit where Orlando has gone mad so maybe we are seeing them as he sees them? Oddly, the remarkably opulent booklet that accompanies the disk, while having several essays on Vivaldi and the place of Orlando in his overall output, tells us nothing useful about the production and doesn’t even have a track listing.
The production, being minimalist in concept places the onus on the players to convey the drama. This they do very effectively. At the heart of this are the two main characters; Orlando and Alcina. The former is played by Marie-Nicole Lemieux who is quite spectacular. She is convincingly male, convincingly mad and really very, very impressive across a wide range of vocal demands in the extended mad scene. Jennifer Larmore’s Alcina is equally convincing. She is a superb actress; alternately seductive and venom spitting. She has complete control of her insane coloratura and generally sings exceptionally well. There’s good back up from the rest of the cast. There’s some very sexy singing from Verónica Cangemi as Angelica and solid performances from Philippe Jaroussky as Ruggiero, Christian Senn as Astolfo, Kristina Hammarström as Bradamante and Romina Basso as Medoro. The ladies playing ladies are also quite decorative. Musical direction is by Jean-Christophe Spinosi who pulled together the performing edition as well as conducting. The band is the Ensemble Matheus.
For a 2011 recording the disk package is a bit odd and not especially in a good way. The picture quality is OK but not spectacular. The only sound option is Dolby stereo. It doesn’t sound particularly bad but, really, we expect better than that on a modern recording. The only subtitle options are french and English and there are no extras. The video direction, by Olivier Simmonet, is unobtrusive and seems well in tune with the stage production.
This is an interesting production with some very strong performances. The only competition for this work is a much older recording from San Francisco so, despite reservations about the sound, this disk can be recommended.
This one sounds more exciting than the SFO version I watched! (I would seek it out for either Lemieux or Larmore, so both together will be even more fun.)
Although on the whole I think this is a good version of this relatively unknown opera, I became a little bit disappointed with the third act, which looked to me like it was borrowed from Elektra, with everybody mad, not only Orlando.