Orlando

With her first staging of an opera Nicola Hümpel dedicates herself to one of G. F. Handel’s masterpieces: the “magical opera” around Orlando’s madness of love. What man today would grow mad if his beloved would not yield to him? It seems it was more than possible in the days when men were knights and heroes.

Orlando

Enjoy “the musically richest of all Handel operas” (Winton Dean) in this new production of Orlando. This “magical opera”, whose libretto is based on Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, is a masterpiece by the Halle-born composer, which brings Orlando’s madness of love to the stage with dramatic effect… What man today would grow mad if his beloved would not yield to him? It seems it was more than possible in the days when men were knights and heroes.

This staging of Orlando brings together an independent artistic team, to which the performers Miyoko Urayama and Patric Schott belong, and the singers of a “classical” opera house ensemble. An exhilarating exchange of different methods of working and thinking makes the thrills and tension of this production a source of both risk and opportunity. Always remaining true to the spirit of the opera, the two companies sound out the state of mind of the opera’s characters by drawing on the individual experiences of the performer. Experimenting with and discarding ideas at the beginning of the rehearsal period is also a key part of the production. Alongside improvisation, the body itself also has an important role to play. Movement and facial expressions are developed out of the music and songs and ultimately undergo the minutest of examinations.

Authenticity and the inconsistencies between talk and action constitute two crucial mainstays of the theatrical work of NICO AND THE NAVIGATORS, which come to the fore more in their own productions than is possible when collaborating with an opera house and company. Nicola Hümpel refuses to provide clear-cut answers to a given matter and instead invites the audience members to look more closely and ask themselves existential questions. The new landscapes of thought and portraits of mankind are couched in a clear, functional yet striking aesthetic. The use of novel and shapely geometrical objects that are used as sensual-looking stage elements and props, are testament to the experimental approach to material.

 

A production by Halle Opera and Haendel Festival Halle, in cooperation with Nico and the Navigators.

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Press reviews

Andreas Hillger / Mitteldeutsche Zeitung

…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 was met by an enthusiastic majority at the premiere…

Andreas Hillger / Mitteldeutsche Zeitung

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.

Wolfgang Hirsch / Thüringische Landeszeitung

…A risky choice? – A real find! For Nico cannot and will not identify with those grand exaltations associated with the baroque. She opts for a cool, ironic distance and keeps the characters, whether in delirium or in raptures, suspended from the strings of their emotions like mechanical puppets…

Wolfgang Hirsch / Thüringische Landeszeitung

The Handel festival opened in Halle on Friday with the brilliant premiere of Nicola Hümpel's “Orlando” What an odd hero! A narrow-chested fellow in a nondescript grey suit comes on stage wearing a ridiculous Cossack hat and carrying an empty suitcase. His facial features suggest simple-mindedness. OK, so he has fallen in love – but to what degree? His mentor, the wise magician Zoroastro, is not the only one to take issue with him: is this supposed to be Roland, the warrior? The most noble of Charlemagne's knights? Yet Handel, the astute musical magician and opera strategist, did in fact create just such a skewed Orlando figure, and he conceived the opera of the same name, first performed in 1733 during his London heyday, as a comedy built around this travesty of a hero, one blinded by love, whose excessive character causes him to work himself up into a jealous rage and, ultimately, into a state of delusion, of mania even. The renowned Farinelli, Handel's preferred castrato, was not amused. The same could not be said of the festival audience in Halle. The new artistic director Clemens Birnbaum entrusted the festival premiere to Nicola Hümpel, a cult director known on the independent theatre scene, who has already shaken up Berlin with "Nico and the Navigators". A risky choice? - A real find! For Nico cannot and will not identify with those grand exaltations associated with the baroque. She opts for a cool, ironic distance and keeps the characters, whether in delirium or in raptures, suspended from the strings of their emotions like mechanical puppets. The production is complemented by an understated stage design (Oliver Proske) laid out before a blue-green cyclorama, as well as unostentatious costumes (Frauke Ritter). The video sequences (Tom Hanke) have both an illustrative and commentarial role. The facial expressions and gestures of the actors correspond to their schematically dictated range of feelings. Hümpel certainly delivers a coup de maîtrise with the introduction of two of her Navigators, Miyoko Urayama and Patric Schott: they steer and undermine the action with their clever hullabaloo; the round dance of inflamed passions is performed in a manner akin to a street ballad. In this way anyone who goes off into ecstasies is presented as a fool. So it goes with Medoro, Orlando's rival for the favours of the lovely Angelica, and with the naïve shepherdess Dorinda. As soon as she begins to confess the agony of her longing in grand terms, the cheeky mimes unpick her bright red knitted stockings. In the meantime, Medoro, in a similar situation, takes matters in hand himself, in the form of an attack on his grotesque crocheted tie – an exposure of himself, in the literal sense, as the recompense for his shame. When Dorinda makes eyes at Medoro, it rains wads of cotton wool. And when the pastoral student of love is left standing as the only unfortunate in love at the production's end, she is deservedly sheepish. No over-excited sloppy sentimentality goes unpunished. A battle of voices at the highest level Even if back then such a baseness bordering on the quite absurdly spiteful was unimaginable, by today's standards it is the perfect interpretation of what Handel had in mind. Members of the aristocratic audience were not necessarily supposed to identify with these heroic play-actors against their will, but rather to revel in their singing. And what Halle's soloists had to offer musically was a real joy. It is a rare thing to have the opportunity to experience such a first-rate and well-balanced ensemble. Local hero Christoph Stegemann captivates as Zoroastro with his stable, clearly contoured bass. Only at times did Marie Friederike Schöder, a Mozart specialist, have a hint of trouble with Angelica's airy coloratura, whereas Sophie Klußmann fulfilled all of the promise of innocently arcadian sweetness. All three are part of the Halle Opera ensemble. The duel between Owen Willetts as Orlando, and Dmitry Egorov as Medoro, two wonderfully fruity diverging altos, ended with a draw at the very highest level. Director of music Bernhard Forck conducted the festival orchestra, which played upon authentic instruments with great relish and assurance, as well as real poise and a professional feel for delicate emphasis as well as dramatic urgency. The result was a nicely taut, crisp Handel sound. The audience took delight in what was a highly artificial, heartily humorous performance, both musically and on stage. This "Orlando furioso" did not attract the usual applause at the end of the performance. It came as a veritable storm.

Jörg Königsdorf / Tagesspiegel

…in the Halle opera house, the Berlin-based theatre director Nicola Hümpel doesn’t care a jot about where her characters are going nor where they have come from and certainly doesn’t attempt to present credible reasons for what is all too improbable. In her hands “Orlando” becomes a poetic round dance, whose images are drawn from the musical effect of the given moment…

Jörg Königsdorf / Tagesspiegel

As light as a feather: Nico and the Navigators perform “Orlando” at the Handel festival in Halle Love really can drive people crazy. It isn't hard to understand why a man goes off the rails if the woman he loves runs off with another man. But when just a few more minutes of opera has played out and the whole furore is remedied by little more than a snapping of one's fingers, with the man who but a moment before was stark raving mad becoming suddenly impeccably well-behaved and ready to accept the reality of how the relationships have panned out, then it should be clear to all that the storyline of George Frideric Handel's “Orlando” is best explained by something other than psychological realism. This work, which was first performed in 1733, is at once one of Handel's most popular and most difficult operas. It is only a matter of months ago that the Norwegian Alexander Mörk-Eidem's attempt to take this rather rudimentary stalker story about a lovesick lunatic at face value ended in failure at the Komische Oper. One can well imagine that in the face of such a flop Nicola Hümpel felt justified in her resolve to come at her own staging of this awkward work from a directly opposed angle. In the Halle opera house, the Berlin-based independent theatre director doesn't care a jot about where her characters are going nor where they have come from and certainly doesn't attempt to present credible reasons for what is all too improbable. In her hands “Orlando” becomes a poetic round dance, whose images are drawn from the musical effect of the given moment. Thanks to Hümpel's informal and abstract production, which lasts a good three hours, Halle's Handel festival may well succeed in bringing a breath of fresh air to the baroque opera scene. The success of the production should come as no surprise. Over the last few years Hümpel and her troupe of performers, Nico and the Navigators, have slowly turned towards opera, with two Schubert projects and most recently with the Handel medley of “Anaesthesia”, which was also developed for the Halle festival (and later performed in Berlin's Radialsystem). While this first array of images inspired by Handel admittedly seemed in parts to be rather artificial, the binding of the images to the framework of an operatic storyline creates a better balance for the freely associative fantasy with which Hümpel illustrates Handel's arias. Two of her Navigators are brought in to join the five singers on the pastel-coloured semicircle of the stage (Oliver Proske) and these two react to the music just as children would: Miyoko Urayama and Patric Schott spin around with arms outstretched like windmills, they perform a kind of martial-style karaoke with imaginary swords, they mess about with the shepherd's crooks and sheepskin rugs that the revolving stage has just delivered. This shift towards the poetic endows the production with a remarkable lightness and, almost without you realising it, even manages to make the characters believable. Since everybody here is behaving like children, with Angelica now preferring to play with Medoro than with Orlando, the question of psychological verisimilitude becomes superfluous. Orlando's delirium is the defiant reaction of a disappointed boy – impulsive and unbridled, but also quick to die down. The story remains astonishingly clear, even though the five singers are only ever characterised by their offbeat fantastical costumes: Angelica with her silver space princess dress, the lily-livered Medoro as a charming E.T.A. Hoffmann character and the knight Orlando as a puzzled children's-book hero with a Russian hat and little suitcase. That this feather-light evening wants for nothing is also due to the fact that Halle relies not on the stars of coloratura but on young and talented new performers: the wonderfully saucer-eyed young Brit Owen Willetts, who takes on the much-feared title role with a sensuous alto voice, and the young Russian Dmitry Egorov (Medoro), a silky smooth counter tenor. Both are real discoveries for baroque opera. The performance of the Halle Festival Orchestra, conducted by Bernhard Forck, the concertmaster of the Berlin Academy for Ancient Music, which is pleasant-sounding rather than electrifying, also fits in well with Hümpel's informal Handel fantasy. In the orchestral pit the music is enjoyed rather than held up on display. And that too can be a very agreeable thing.

Joachim Lange / Die Deutsche Bühne

…Of the three operas performed at the Handel Festival in Karlsruhe, Göttingen and Halle, Nicola Hümpel and her Berlin theater team Nico and the Navigators are the most consistent in breaking new ground. They reinvent the magic opera, so to speak, by playing around the core of the plot associatively…

Joachim Lange / Die Deutsche Bühne

(...) Under its new boss, early music specialist Bernhard Forck, the Handel Festival Orchestra in Halle can build on a competence in Handel that has grown over many years for its "Orlando" (1733). With Owen Willetts as Orlando and Dmitry Egorov as Medoro, there are also two excellent countertenors on stage. Marie Friederike Schöder finds dramatic verve as Angelica, and Christoph Stegemann also brings a rock-solid magician Zoroastro to the stage. Musically, then, the output here was also considerable. Scenically, "Orlando" has its pitfalls, for here, too, the madness of love has method in a pronounced confusion of "who-loves-who?". And above all the "who-loves-who-not". In the magic opera, which is more of a relationship opera, Handel relies on the melodiously swinging emotions of the lovers, the disappointed and those who despair to the point of madness. Orlando himself is only brought back from madness by ei rather drastically intervening lieto fine that resurrects all the dead. To cope with this, Nicola Hümpel and her Berlin theater team, Nico and the Navigators, take the most consistent new approach. They reinvent the magic opera, so to speak, by playing associatively around the core of the plot. In front of the semi-circular projection screen (stage: Oliver Proske), they add two performers to the singing personnel, who comment on the action pantomimically, occasionally acting as imaginary contact persons in the arias or simply playing corny jokes. In addition, there are the free-associative videos by Tom Hanke and the ironically stylized costumes by Frauke Ritter. All this gives the relationship chamber play a rather cheerfully restrained opulence. So the furious Roland doesn't have to be the belligerent, chivalrous hero at all. Here he is simply the sad little prince Orlando, who is also inside him.

Joachim Lange / Gießener Allgemeine

…New (and long overdue) for Halle was this piece of theatrical derring-do. To all intents and purposes Hümpel reinvents the Zauberoper, playing about with the basic storyline on different associative levels…

…New (and long overdue) for Halle was this piece of theatrical derring-do. To all intents and purposes Hümpel reinvents the Zauberoper, playing about with the basic storyline on different associative levels… all of which gives this chamber play a cheerfully restrained opulence…

Übersetzt von Corinne Hundleby

Joachim Lange / Gießener Allgemeine

In Halle, Orlando, who has been given an opera by many composers, is not so much a raging Roland, an Orlando furioso, as in Vivaldi's work, for example. In the festival production, he is rather a little prince who loses himself and his mind. Which is no wonder in the confusion of who-loves-who and especially who-loves-not. Georg Friedrich Händel, born in Halle, also made use of the Orlando furioso material, which goes back to Ludovico Ariosto's epic. In 1733, Handel even used a libretto that Domenico Scarlatti had already set to music 20 years before him. Handel relies less on dramatic action peppered with bravura arias than on the melodious emotional states of the lovers, the disappointed, and those who have despaired to the point of madness (Orlando himself can only be brought back from madness by a rather drastic intervention that resurrects all the dead and magically straightens everything out). The arioso verbosity becomes a template for the singers' virtuosity. Handel had written the title role for his castrato star Senesiono, after all. Halle's Handel Festival can boast two excellent countertenors in Owen Willetts as Orlando and Dmitry Egorov as his rival Medoro. Marie Friederike Schöder finds dramatic verve as Angelica, and Christoph Stegemann also contributes a rock-solid magician Zoroastro as the leader. Only Sophie Klußmann, in her Dorinda, was still too clearly alienated from the challenges of baroque singing. Once again the Händelfestspielorchester proved its rank as a special ensemble with an internationally competitive level. The part of the Staatskapelle Halle playing on period instruments, under the baton of its new director Bernhard Forck, a specialist in early music, was in true festival form. Magic opera reinvented New (and overdue) for Halle was a scenic daring. After a trial run the year before, Nicola Hümpel and her Berlin off-theater team staged "Nico and the Navigators," the Festival's main production, which, in keeping with tradition, the Halle Opera House contributes. Hümpel reinvents the magic opera, so to speak, by playing associatively around the core of the plot on various levels. In front of the semicircular projection screen (stage: Oliver Proske), she adds two performers, Miyoko Urayama and Patric Schott, to the singing personnel. They comment on the action pantomimically, occasionally acting as imaginary contact persons in the arias or playing practical jokes. In addition, there are the freely associating videos by Tom Hanke and the costumes by Frauke Ritter, inspired by Robert Wilson's productions. All this gives the relationship chamber play a cheerfully restrained opulence. Orlando doesn't have to be the belligerent hero. Here he is simply the sad little prince that is also inside him.

Sonja Boerdner / Märkische Allgemeine

…A dialogue is created between a mature, elegant and very emotional opera composition beyond the constantly repetitive play between recitative and aria, a great Handel Festival Orchestra conducted by Bernhard Forck and the singers…

Sonja Boerdner / Märkische Allgemeine

At this year's Handel Festival, "knights and heroes" are romping around - but not only the (...) Sunday afternoon and the not-so-heroic knight "Orlando" at the Halle Opera. There is a lot going on on stage. Two actors from the theater group Nico and the Navigators double the action through pantomime. They act out the thoughts and feelings of the protagonists, bringing a dissonant component to the action. A dialogue is created between a mature, elegant and highly emotional operatic composition beyond the repetitive play between recitative and aria, a magnificent Handel Festival Orchestra conducted by Bernhard Forck, and the singers. Owen Willetts' voluminous alto gives emotional depth to Orlando, who is searching for true love. His counterpart is Medoro, sung by Dmitry Egorov. Marie Friederike Schöder and Sophie Klußmann impress as Angelica and Dorinda. As well as Christoph Stegemann (Zoroastro) they belong to the Halle house ensemble. (...)

Susanne Christmann / Supersonntag / Wochenspiegel Halle

…The knight Orlando’s love madness was brought to the stage in a special way (…) and the chance was taken to transfer new ways of seeing and telling to Handel’s operas…

Susanne Christmann / Supersonntag / Wochenspiegel Halle

...The eagerly awaited premiere of the Handel opera "Orlando" set the next highlight on Friday evening. The knight Orlando's love madness was brought to the stage in a special way. The decision in favor of Bernhard Forck as director and the artistic participation of Nico and the Navigators not only strengthened the profile of the Handel Festival Orchestra, but also provided an opportunity to apply new perspectives and narratives to Handel's operas. Many a purist was annoyed by this - after all, he did not want the "musically most magnificent of all Handel operas" (Winton Dean) to be given such a modern workshop character....

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