Vivaldi Orlando Plays Mad Tete a Tete at Battersea Arts Centre, London. 11 August 00
Unheard since it was premiered at Teatro Sant'Angelo, Venice, in 1714 (and some of its arias were not even heard then) this opera has been resurrected and staged in a new edition to launch this year's alternative operas at BAC Opera 2000. In an entertaining workshop hour, Directors Bill Bankes-Jones & Orlando Jopling (conductor) introduced with great good humour their researches and discoveries in Venice, with a selection of choice musical examples, ending with two versions of one aria between which the audience were to choose for the staged performance of the complete second act (only) after the interval. The score as found raised many puzzles and discovery of the original Venetian libretti used by the wealthier patrons helped to sort out the ordering of the bizarre plot and its maze of disguises. A pity we were not allowed to hear that text in English translation.
It mattered little in the end. The evening ran to nearly three hours instead of two as scheduled; the succession of da capo arias became wearisome and it was not possible to become involved with the doings of the jokily costumed singers. The English version given relied upon modern knock-about humour, in the Blackadder sort of vein, and no good case was made for Bankes-Jones' belief that 'audiences are now finally ready to grasp and enjoy Vivaldi's dramatic writing', although the reception was as warm as the summer evening.
That really would need to be tested in a more 'authentic' type production, with lavish spectacle for all the deceptions and magicking, otherwise it becomes little more than a vehicle for presenting Vivaldi's vocal writing without any coherent approach to opera of its time.
The singers did well, notably counter-tenor Stephen Wallace and the imposing bass-baritone Keel Watson (pictured!) as the eponymous hero. The small period band, including theorbos, guitar and two spectacular natural horns playing from the back of the theatre, was adequate, but intonation slipped during the tiring, lengthy second act in a very hot and poorly ventilated theatre.
The enterprise was worth-while and I would envisage a successful CD if cast from strength and accompanied by a crack period orchestra, but I am sceptical of Orlando Finto Pazzo's viability on stage.
Peter Grahame Woolf
The Works (BAC Opera 2000) continues until 2 September with an excitingly varied programme; www.bac.org.uk
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