Handel’s Orlando is pretty classic opera seria stuff. It’s based on an episode in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. Orlando, a great soldier in Charlemagne’s army has lost his ardour for military glory because he has fallen desperately in love with the pagan princess Angelica, who is in turn in love with another man, Medoro. Orlando cannot accept this and he is driven to madness, prevented from causing absolute carnage only by the magician Zoroastro (who eventually restores his sanity). There’s also a shepherdess, Dorinda, who is also in love with Medoro, but comes to accept her lot. It’s all a bit daft and screams for a strong production concept. In his 2008 Zürich production Jens-Daniel Herzog finds one. He relocates the action to a military psychiatric hospital during, or just after, WW1. Orlando is suffering from battle fatigue or PTSD and Zoroastro is a psychiatrist. Angelica is still a princess but Dorinda has become a nurse. It all works rather well.
We open on Orlando returned from the battlefield. He is relieved of his kit bag, rifle and bayonet and is treated by the good doctor Zoroastro who is attended by an entourage of students, nurses and orderlies. When he goes mad he sets out on an axe rampage ultimately ended by a masked and gloved Zoroastro operating on Orlando. The pyjama clad axe murderer is transformed into a sane man in a rather spectacular dress uniform. Uniform purists will find this production troubling however. You have been warned. Uniforms aside, there’s lots of make out action, which given the casting of mezzos in the two “romantic” male roles means it’s all girl on girl. There’s even the bit where Dorinda appears about to perform oral sex on Medoro. Is there even a word for this? A sock job perhaps.
Honestly though, the action is really just an excuse for the music which is fabulous. The whole cast is vocally extremely strong. Konstantin Wolff’s Zoroastro is both powerful and flexible. Christina Clark’s Dorinda is sweet toned and very pretty tolisten to. Martina Janková (Angelica) is a more modern sounding, quite dramatic soprano but she is quite at home in the coloratura too. Both the mezzos; Katharina Peetz as Medoro and Marijana Mijanović in the title role seem perfectly at home with the material. William Christie directs the always fabulous Scintilla of the Zürich opera so no worries at all in that department. I have a hard time imagining anyone doing a better job on the music than this production.
The Blu-ray production is fine. Felix Breisach’s video direction is unobtrusive and, in any event, this is an opera about five characters not a series of big set pieces so close ups are fine most of the time. The picture is 1080i 16:9 and looks great. The sound is solid, in every sende, DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. It really is quite immersive. There are n extras on the disk and the usual chapter listing and synopsis in the booklet. Subtitles are Italian, English, French, German and Spanish.