The gods are like children: even before Orlando and Angelica, Dorinda and Medoro have fallen in and out of love, before the face-off between love and power has driven the little prince into delusion, Cupid and Mars had been fighting a war by proxy. The initial caress quickly turns into a duel whose aim is to outdo the other with acts of martyrdom of all sorts, a duel such as can be fought only by immortals, and only when the little angel and the little devil have realised that this stalemate will continue for all eternity do they turn to more rewarding human combatants. Thus Miyoko Urayama and Patric Schott are not present simply in a bid to create an emotional effect – rather they represent the meaningful lynchpin of Nicola Hümpel's production of “Orlando”.
The Berlin-based director has brought in two of her long-standing comrades-in-arms for her municipal theatre debut, which, being an opera production performed at the Handel festival, came under particular scrutiny. Indeed never has the name of her independent, internationally acclaimed group been more apt than it is here: the mute “Navigators” keep the story on course, they check the compass and manoeuvre the team through the calm and the storm. That in so doing they are simultaneously continuing their research into the baroque, begun last year in Halle with “Anaesthesia”, is also apparent in the props that form part of Oliver Proske's grandiose stage design: the shepherd's crooks and balls of wool, sheepskins and quills build up a sense of abstract arcadia, in which a fan sends little paper butterflies into the air and pillows bloom like white flowers.
Shadow of the wind chime
In this landscape, in which a wind chime casts dancing shadows and a grotto grows out of the ground as if by magic, the director develops her characters through a tender sign language which would remain comprehensible even without the aphoristic commentary and associative video projections. A stocking is unravelled into a length of red yarn that immediately pulls another performer onto the stage by the tie he is wearing. A pair of heeled shoes is able to render the barefoot shepherdess weightless. And Frauke Ritter's costumes are transformed into foliage and wreaths...
In addition the production is punctuated with short musical interventions, whose measured solemnity is always suggestive of a respect for the work: here a minimal delay, there a rush of breath across a bottleneck, to intensify the breathing of the sleeping hero. However the prevailing authority lies unmistakably in the orchestral pit, where Bernhard Forck makes his impressive opera debut as conductor of the Handel festival orchestra. With a performance this enthusiastic and full of understanding, this sympathetic and rousing, the musicians of the Halle State Orchestra must surely be entitled to the status that their position as house orchestra at the Baroque Festival confers upon them.
Equally if not more praiseworthy is the cast of singers: Owen Willets inhabits the role of Orlando as both singer and actor, making credible the running amok as well as the impotent lamenting. Dmitry Egorov's Medoro, on the other hand, constitutes an alternative version of this radical. More strictly and closely controlled, both vocally and emotionally, he literally hangs from a bell-rope, swinging like a pendulum between two extremes. Both men showcase fine high-pitched voices and both are assigned equally talented ladies – one beautiful and one made to appear beautiful. While Sophie Klußmann also allows the pure, deeply wounded innocence of Dorinda to be conveyed in her voice, Marie Friederike Schöder manages to draw the mannerism and posing of an Angelica pampered by success into the acrobatics of her singing – which includes an ironic moment of self-revelation. Lastly, Christoph Stegemann is a magician whose carefully calculated gestures suggest a power which is really only to be found in his voice.
A leap into timelessness
The Halle Opera has dared to take a giant leap with this production – a version which frees Handel from the wilful stipulations of director's theatre and opens him up to a new and timelessly valid aesthetic. This precision engineering of happiness in opera divides opinion, but was met by an enthusiastic majority at the premiere.
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