Zurich Opera invited Dutch director Jetske Mijnssen to create a new production of Haydn’s comic opera “Orlando Paladino”, derived from 16th century fantasist Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso.
Perhaps no opera composer is more unjustifiably ignored that Mozart’s friend and mentor, Joseph Haydn. Zurich Opera has taken a step toward rectifying that injustice.
[Below: Composer Joseph Haydn; resized image of a portrait from life by Thomas Hardy.]
Jetske Mijnssen’s creative production is an important step in introducing Haydn’s operatic music to unfamiliar audiences. Her delightful staging deserves to be transported beyond Winterthur to operatic venues in other parts of the world.
Mijnssen’s production was created for the Theater Winterthur, located in Winterthur, 20 minutes by train from the bahnhof nearest the Zurich Opera. “Orlando’s” cast was chosen from Zurich Opera’s International Opera Studio.
[Below: Dutch director Jetske Mijnssen; edited image, based on a Marco Borggreve photograph, from the Semperoper Dresden.]
Retelling Ariosto’s Tale
Ariosto’s tale is filled with magical elements. Mijnssen’s reconceptualization of the tale suggests a more contemporary magical element – the existence of an alternate universe in which each character’s doppelgängers pursue different life paths.
We are in a tavern that caters to a youthful crowd. In the first act, we come to know the characters, their relationships, and, importantly, the distinctive costumes that each wears. A rockstar, Orlando, is scheduled to appear for a concert. The sorceress Alcina decides to involve herself in the affairs of the characters who are present.
[Below: a contemporary tavern, which provides the unit set for “Orlando Paladino”; edited image, based on a Danielle Liniger photograph, courtesy of the Zurich Opera.]
Alcina’s spells assure that in the magical second act (the alternative universe), each character’s costume has changed color and each character has at least one doppelgänger.
Claire De Sévigné’s Angelica
Despite the opera’s title, the central figure is Angelica, who is in a somewhat stormy relationship with Medoro, but is also pursued romantically by Orlando, and Orlando’s enemy, Rodomonte.
The role of Angelica was performed with distinction by Canadian coloratura soprano Claire De Sévigné, on whose performance of the Queen of the Night I had previously reported [see Mizrahi’s Charming “Magic Flute” Production Opens OTSL 2014 Season – St Louis, May 24, 2014.]
[Below: the Prom Queen Angelica (Claire De Sévigné, right) alternates breaking up and reconciling with her lover, Medoro (Spencer Lang, left); edited image, based on a Danielle Liniger photograph, courtesy of the Zurich Opera.]
De Sévigné was an arresting presence as the self-absorbed Angelica, impressive from her enchanting first aria Palpita ad ogni istante through her introspective final act aria Dell’estreme sue voci dolenti.
Spencer Lang’s Medoro
Oregonian Spencer Lang played Medoro, Angelica’s on-again, off-again boyfriend. From his first aria Parto, ma, oh dio, non posso with its uptempo central section, one recognizes how beautifully matched are Haydn’s vocal writing and the lyric tenor voice exemplified by Lang.
[Below: Medoro (Spencer Lang, right) and Angelica (Claire De Sévigné, left) explore their lives in an alternative future; edited image, based on a Danielle Liniger photograph, courtesy of the Zurich Opera.]
Lang’s performance as Medoro suggests an important career in the lyric tenor repertory awaits him.
Iain Milne’s Orlando
Scottish tenor Iain Milne’s robust tenor gave heft to the title role of Orlando, in Mijnssen’s conceptualization a rockstar scheduled to give a concert in the bar.
[Below: Orlando (Iain Milne) has brought roses to impress the object of his affections; edited image, based on a Danielle Liniger photograph, courtesy of the Zurich Opera.]
It is Orlando’s discovery of the relationship between Angelica, whom he is pursuing romantically, and Medoro (and the magical intervention of the sorceress Alcina) that plunges him into suicidal despair. His doppelgänger appears and the Mijnssen’s production moves into the alternative world.
[Below: Orlando (Iain Milne, left) and Orlando’s doppelgänger (Benjamin Fröhlich, right) are determined to end their lives; edited image, based on a Danielle Liniger photograph, courtesy of the Zurich Opera.]
Estelle Poscio’s Eurilla
Haydn’s shepherdess Eurilla (Swiss soprano Estelle Poscio) and her father Licone (Pavel Petrov) become the tavern-keepers in Mijnssen’s concept.
Poscio’s Eurilla is the seconda donna to de Sévigné’s Angelica. Eurilla discovers a mutual attraction with David Margulis’ Pasquale, forming a second love-bond to complement the Angelica-Medoro pairing.
[Below: the barmaid Eurilla (Estelle Poscio) works aside her father Licone (Pavel Petrov, right) as Rodomonte (Ivan Thirion) mopes on the floor; edited image, based on a Danielle Liniger photograph, courtesy of the Zurich Opera.]
Eurilla’s aria Quel tuo visetto amabile, that turns into an amorous duet with Margulis’ Pasquale, was a highlight of the evening.
David Margulis’ Pasquale
The character of Pasquale, nominally squire to the knight Orlando the knight (or, in this version, roadie to Orlando the rockstar), pursues his own affairs throughout the opera. In a musical score with countless gems, Pasquale’s several arias are among the most engaging.
[Below: Pasquale (David Margulis, center) is the subject of the attention of Eurilla (Estelle Poscio) and her doppelgängers (Sarah Eicher et al.); edited image, based on a Danielle Lisinger photograph, courtesy of the Zurich Opera.]
Pasquale is a kindred spirit to Mozart’s Leporello. In fact, Pasquale’s bragging, tongue-twisting buffo aria Ho viaggiato in Francia, in Spagna will remind contemporary audiences of Leporello’s Catalogue aria, from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”, which premiered five years later. Margulis performed these immediately accessible arias brilliantly.
Alcina and Other Members of the Cast and Crew
The magical interventions in the plot are the doings of the sorceress Alcina, played by mezzo-soprano Carmen Seibel.
[Below: Carmen Seibel as Alcina; edited image, based on a Danielle Liniger photograph, courtesy of the Zurich Opera.]
Ivan Thirion was a lively presence as the barbarian prince Rodomonte. Basso Ildo Song was Charon, in an impressive performance in a brief role – the underworld god (or, in Mijnssen’s concept, the tavern’s janitor) who washes away mortal memories.
Additional doppelgängers included Meret Bodamer (Angelica), Christoph Uhlemann (Rodomonte), Eric Ohlund (Medoro), Marcel Fässler (Pasquale) and Vanessa Schmitz (Alcina).
Gianluca Capuano conducted Haydn’s score with affection. Ben Baur designed the sets, Joki Tewes and Jana Findeklee the attractive costumes. Fabio Dietsche was dramaturg. Hans-Rudolf Kunz designed the lighting.
21st Century Haydn
Ariosto’s sprawling work was a major source of operatic libretti throughout the baroque period. Several of the operas unearthed in the Handel revival are derived from the adventures of Orlando and his enemies and friends.
To assure a more direct connection with 21st century audiences, Mijnssen chose to focus on the amorous relationships and tensions between the characters and to stage the opera in a contemporary setting – a bar – instead of the vaguely Oriental medieval settings that Ariosto’s story suggests.
[Below: as Charon (Ildo Song, center, in purple shirt) washes away memories, Pasquale (David Margulis, left) and Eurilla (Estelle Poscio, second from left) are restored to their original selves, while Licone (Pavel Petrov, right) watches his doppelgänger (Florian Voigt, second from right) disappear; edited image, based on a Danielle Liniger photograph, courtesy of the Zurich Opera.]
Written at the beginning of a ten-year period that subsequently included Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”, “Don Giovanni”, “Clemenza di Tito” and “Magic Flute”, one need only hear the beautifully crafted arias and act-ending ensembles of “Orlando Paladino” to realize how closely Mozart adhered to Haydn’s style of operatic composition.
I recommend this production and these performances enthusiastically, especially to those opera-goers unfamiliar with Haydn’s operas, who appreciate the operas of Mozart.