When Baroque heroes suffer burn-out: Handel in rehab
There are few opera seria by Handel that so fundamentally defy the listener's expectations as "Orlando." The da capo arias are interrupted and intercut with ariosi and accompanied recitatives. There are more ensembles than a usual opera seria. The instrumentation is more varied and colorful, and even contains a pair of special violins with drone strings. And the characters are not static stereotypes but figures that anticipate the psychological development that will be found in later operas. Especially the character of Zoroastro brings to mind Mozart's "Così fan tutte."
In this production of the Zurich Opera, director Jens-Daniel Herzog and set designer Mathis Neidhardt have cast Zoroastro as a kind of Don Alfonso who is conducting a psychological experiment on the warrior Orlando, suffering from career burn-out. Here the action takes place in a kind of "Magic Mountain" sanatorium of the early 20th century, with Orlando being therapied by psychiatrist/wizard Zoroastro – an ingenious transposition that wonderfully reflects the Baroque era's love of experiments while doing full justice to the element of unpredictability written into every measure of Handel's music.
Only with the most convincing singers and flexible instrumentalists can this concept succeed. And thanks to Marijana Mijanovic (Orlando), Konstantin Wolff (Zoroastro), Martina Janková (Angelica), Katharina Peetz (Medoro) and Christina Clark (Dorinda), accompanied by William Christie and the Zurich Opera's special Baroque ensemble "La Scintilla," the wager is brilliantly won. Marijana Mijanovic, in particular, effortlessly tosses out coloraturas and plumbs her contralto depths for tones of menace or despair just as easily as she can depict every nuance of her character's turbulent emotional state through her acting. And with Christie – founder and head of the prestigious Baroque ensemble "Les Arts Florissants" – bringing his expertise to bear on the Zurich ensemble, the performance captured here on video is a delight for the ears as well as for the eyes.