Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

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Review: Vivaldi’s Fascinating “Orlando Finto Pazzo” – Korea National Opera, May 10, 2017

May 11th, 2017

The Korea National Opera revived its 2016 hit production of Vivaldi’s rarely performed early opera, “Orlando Finto Pazzo [Orlando Fakes Insanity]” at Seoul’s LG Arts Theater.

The cast consisted of seven principal singers with mastery of Vivaldi’s coloratura fireworks, a brilliantly conceived staging by Italian wunderkind director Fabio Ceresa, attractive sets by South Korean designer Pilyoung Oh and masterful conducting by Greek baroque specialist, Maestro George Petrou, leading an orchestra consisting of reproductions of instruments for which Vivaldi composed.

Each of the principals, under the direction of Maestro Petrou, an expert on baroque opera, observed the convention of altering the repeat verses in the opera’s abundance of da capo arias to add extensive ornamentation.

Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli’s Ersilla and Christoph Woo’s Orlando

The opera’s is associated historically with the prima donna role of Ersilla, the witch adversary of the paladin Orlando.

[Below: Ersilla (Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli, left center, seated on throne, gesturing) is surrounded by her minions; edited image, based on a production photograph, courtesy of the Korea National Opera.]

Italian coloratura soprano Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli was in lustrous voice for each of Ersilla’s several arias. Among the evening’s most memorable experiences were Mazzulli’s performances of the dramatic Lo stridor l’error d’Averno and of Ersilla’s elegaic Se garrisce la rondinella. For the latter, the Greek concertmeister Sergiu Nastasa stood throughout to perform the aria’s plaintive violin accompaniment.

In a coup de théâtre, Mazzulli’s final aria ends with Mazzulli’s Ersilla ascending upward, disappearing above the stage.

The role of Orlando, Ersilla’s adversary, but also would-be lover, was performed with distinction by South Korean bass-baritone Christoph Woo, who in recent years has been a member of the ensemble of Northern Germany’s Kiel Opera.

[Below: Bass-Baritone Christoph [Kyung-Sik] Woo; edited image of a publicity photograph from Theater Kiel.]

Tall and handsome, a winsome and athletic actor with a powerful bass voice, Woo’s performance augurs a major international career.

David DQ Lee’s Argillano and Siman Chung’s Grifone

The production employed counter-tenors for the roles of Argillano and Grifone.

South Korean-born Canadian counter-tenor David DQ Lee was a fervent Argillano, arguably the second longest role in the opera.  Costumed as an armored knight throughout, Lee demonstrated lyrical beauty in the intoxicating Diro allor, di te and spectacular vocal dexterity in the aria E’il destin della nave agitata.

[Below: Argillano (David DQ Lee, right) draws his sword at Grifone (Siman Chung, left); edited image, based on a production photograph, courtesy of the Korea National Opera.]

South Korean counter-tenor Siman Chung brought a voice of power and emotion to the role of Grifone – suggesting readiness for even larger counter-tenor assignments internationally.

[Below: Grifone (Siman Chung, center) attempts to escape the ropes and chain that bind him; edited image, based on a production photograph, courtesy of the Korea National Opera.]

Among the role’s charms is the aria Alla rosa rugiadosa for which Vivaldi has invented a musical accompaniment evoking an image of honey-bees visiting flowers.

[Below: Counter-tenor Siman Chung sang the role of Grifone; edited image, based on a publicity photograph.]

Byoung Ho June’s Brandimarte, Jina Oh’s Tigrinda ad Franziska Gottwald’s Origille

The other three roles include the paladin Brandimarte, authoritatively performed by South Korean tenor Byoung Ho June.

[Below: Tenor Byoung Ho June sang the role of Brandimarte; edited image, based on a publicity photograph, courtesy of the Korea National Opera.]

Jina Oh was cast as the potion-maker Tigrinda. Between nefarious pursuits, Oh’s Tigrinda finds opportunities for humor.

[Below: South Korean coloratura mezzo-soprano Jina Oh; edited image, based on a photograph from truelinked.com.]

The seventh member of the cast, whose vocal virtuosity matched the other six, was German mezzo-soprano Franziska Gottwald in the role of Origille.

[Below: German mezzo-soprano Franziska Gottwald; edited image, based on a photograph from www.franziskagottwald.de]

[Below: Orlando (Christoph Woo, second from left) is defiant and Argillano (David DQ Lee, center, bottom of staircase) is reflective, as Ersilla (Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli, center, top) tries to retain control of Brandimarte (Byoung Ho June), Origille (Franziska Gottwald) and Grifone (Siman Chung); edited image, based on a production photograph of the 2017 Korea National Opera revival of Vivaldi’s “Orlando FInto Pazzo”.]

Director Fabio Ceresa, Conductor George Petrou and the Production

The plot of Vivaldi’s opera is notoriously opaque, although each of its arias is a masterpiece of composition.

Italian director Fabio Ceresa, who has achieved international recognition for his imaginative mountings of opera, has created an attractive, eye-catching production that makes some sense of the plot’s obscurities, while providing fast-paced action.

[Below: Italian director Fabio Ceresa; edited image, based on a publicity photograph, courtesy of the Korea National Opera.]

For the work’s revival at the Korea National Opera, Greek conductor George Petrou enlisted the Camerata Antiqua Seoul,  an orchestra that consists exclusively of instruments like those for which Vivaldi would have written, at a pitch which complements, rather than competes with, baroque styles of singing.

The effect is magical, the orchestral sound proving the right fit for Vivaldi’s mixture of dramatic recitativo and intoxicating arias.

[Maestro George Petrou; edited image, based on a Ilias Sakalak photograph.]

The excellent Grande Opera Chorus complemented the orchestra. Hee Sung Lee is the chorus master.

Pilyoung Oh designed the brilliant sets, Giuseppe Palella the attractive costumes. Martin Agatiello is choreographer.

Hak Min Kim is artistic director.

[Below: David DQ Lee (left) is Argillano and Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli (right) is Ersilla; edited image, based on a production photograph, courtesy of the Korea National Opera.]

Performing the work in the LG Arts Center rather than the much larger Seoul Performing Arts Center [Review: An Elegant “Marriage of Figaro” – Korea Opera Festival (Seoul Arts Center) May 10, 2015] also enhanced the performance.

The Vivaldi works that I have reviewed previously “Griselda” [Extreme Makeover: A Vivaldi Revival’s Reveal – Peter Sellars’ “Griselda” at Santa Fe Opera – August 4, 2011] and “Cato in Utica” [Review: Ovations for John Holiday’s Cesare in American Premiere of Vivaldi’s “Cato in Utica” – Glimmerglass Festival, July 18, 2015] were written over two decades later than “Orlando Finto Pazzo”. Experiencing this work from Vivaldi’s formative early career – a period of brilliant innovations in his instrumental composition – proved to be revelatory.

Recommendation

I enthusiastically recommend the Korea National Opera’s production and cast, and would expect it to be a successful export to Europe and North America.

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