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Joseph HAYDN (1732–1809)
Orlando Paladino (1782)
Patricia Petibon (soprano) – Angelica, Queen of Cathey; Christian Gerhaher (baritone) – Rodomonte, King of Barbary; Michael Schade (tenor) – Orlando, Paladin of Charlemagne; Werner Güra (tenor) – Medoro, a Saracen warrior, Angelica’s beloved; Johannes Kalpers (tenor) – Licone, a shepherd; Malin Hartelius (soprano) – Eurilla, a shepherdess; Markus Schäfer (tenor) – Pasquale, Orlando’s squire; Elisabeth von Magnus (mezzo) – Alcina, a sorceress; Florian Boesch (bass) – Caronte, ferryman of the underworld
Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
rec. live, 11 – 15 July 2005, Stefaniensaal, Graz, Austria. DDD
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 82876 73370 2 [68:21 + 78:17]

 

At the end of the 1970s when Philips started to issue a series of Haydn operas it was practically unknown fact that he had indulged in this genre. The reference books dismissed the Haydn operas them as of marginal importance and they were rarely if ever performed. True, I had seen a performance of Il mondo della luna at the Drottningholm Court Theatre a few years earlier. I found this amusing with splendid music but its action felt outdated. The Philips series, conducted by Antal Dorati, was an eye-opener and by general consent Orlando Paladino was the masterpiece. Nikolaus Harnoncourt goes as far as saying that it is "one of the best works in 18th century music theatre". Haydn contributed an exceptionally inventive and varied score to a libretto that was not written specifically for him but for the Italian composer Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi. It is of course built on the "Chanson de Roland", written around 1100. During the Renaissance Boiardo extended the story in his unfinished poem "Orlando inammorato" and Ariosto went one step further in his "Orlando furioso". Both Lully and Handel wrote operas on the subject, in 1685 and 1733 and so came Guglielmi’s "Le pazzie di Orlando", performed in London in 1771, where he explored the humorous side of the subject. The text Haydn set was further developed but is in the main the same story as Guglielmi’s. It was performed at Esterháza in 1782, 1783 and 1784 and after that was a resounding success in Central Europe, being played during the composer’s lifetime in Bratislava, Prague, Brünn (Brno), Vienna, Budapest, Mannheim, Frankfurt, Cologne, Graz, Nuremberg, Berlin, Hanover, Bremen, Leipzig, Munich, Augsburg, Königsberg, Hamburg, Breslau and Dresden. Eventually it disappeared from view, only to be revived in our time. There is no evidence that Mozart or Da Ponte knew the work but there are similarities between Orlando and Don Giovanni. Don Ottavio could be modelled on Medoro, Donna Anna could be a younger sister of Angelica and Leporello has learnt a thing or two from Pasquale, who boasts about his travels around Europe in a kind of catalogue aria, Ho viaggiato in Francia, in Spagna (CD1 track 17). This buffo character has another aria, demonstrating his musical capacity, imitating instruments in the Maestro di Cappella manner, known from works by both Cimarosa and Paër (CD2 track 16).

Having owned the Dorati recording practically since it was new I have long admired the enormously expressive and varied music. I would even go as far as saying that Papa Haydn in no way comes second best in comparison with Mozart. He has the same ability to shape each aria in accordance with the character, like Mozart leaving it to the orchestra – very often the woodwind – to comment. He may not go quite as deep as his younger compatriot, but neither are the characters as deep as the ones in Don Giovanni or Le nozze di Figaro. Within its own confines this is indeed a masterpiece.

Owners of the old (1977) Dorati recording will want to know whether they now have to discard it and go for this Harnoncourt version instead. For quality there is no need at all for a change, since Dorati’s view is as valid today as it was almost thirty years ago and his singers are all out of the top-drawer. There are differences, however, and I will try to outline them.

The most important difference is that Dorati has a chamber orchestra playing on modern instruments while Harnoncourt has his original ensemble Concentus Musicus playing period instruments and utilizing consonant playing techniques. There is no mistaking this for a modern instrument group but I must admit that nowadays even the authentic movement ensembles have reached a quality and dynamic power close to those achieved by modern orchestras. While Dorati’s band plays extremely well, with rhythmic acuity and transparent sound, Harnoncourt’s orchestra is even more sharply articulated and "cleaner". The more clipped phrasing in places gives a staccato effect which places the music closer to the baroque. The vibrato-less playing of the strings also erases romantic connections. Not that Dorati is particularly romantic in his approach but there is a more smoothed-out quality. Harnoncourt also, as is his wont, projects sharper contrasts between forte and piano; moreover, the period instruments render the music more "modern" with Haydn’s bold instrumentation in places getting a sharper edge. Both conductors deliver lively and alive readings but Harnoncourt’s is more filled with contrast. Both also play all the music. While Dorati, as far as I understand, also includes all – or anyway most of – the recitatives, Harnoncourt makes quite heavy cuts. This makes for a quicker dramatic tempo and that is a good thing. On the other hand Dorati and his soloists deliver the recitatives with a good deal of verve, while Harnoncourt in places – but only in places – can be dangerously slow. In the main, however, both conductors understand Haydn and present the score in the best possible light.

When it comes to the soloists there are also differences but both casts are wonderfully consistent and more or less mirror their respective conductors. Dorati’s singers may be a notch more romantically smooth, but there is really no need for detailed comparison. Let me just say that Dorati’s all-star cast Arleen Augér, Elly Ameling, Gwendolyn Killibrew, George Shirley, Claes H Ahnsjö, Benjamin Luxon, Domenico Trimarchi, Gabor Carelli and Maurizio Mazzieri sing and act as to the manner born with Ahnsjö a stylish Medoro and Luxon a tremendous Rodomonte. Harnoncourt’s group are just as good with a glittering and charming Eurilla from Swedish-born Malin Hartelius, light and youthful with a personal timbre, Patricia Petibon as Angelica, technically accomplished with her very special way of starting a long tone vibratoless in best baroque fashion, only to let it gradually expand and widen the vibrato, which is fully controlled. She has a spotless trill, fine coloratura, displayed not least in the aria Non partir (CD1 track 19). This is a beautiful lament with a dramatic outburst towards the end with quite advanced embellishments and a thrilling flight up into the stratosphere. Elisabeth von Magnus, best known I think for her work in sacred music, is a perfect sorceress, her steady mezzo-soprano rounded and beautiful and with a great deal of temperament.

We hear a fresh voiced Licone in the shape of Johannes Kalpers and Caronte (or Charon), sung with a sonorous bass by Florian Boesch, certainly one to watch. Werner Güra, an excellent lieder singer and a good Bach interpreter, too, sings Medoro with plaintive tone and superb phrasing. Michael Schade, whom I have had reason to admire on several occasions lately as Mozart singer, shows his mellifluous half voice as well as his histrionic qualities in Orlando’s complicated role. Identification is a good noun for his reading.

Pasquale, the buffo character, is normally designed for a baritone. On Dorati’s recording it is that expert character singer Domenico Trimarchi who steals the show whenever he appears. Tenor Markus Schäfer, also a noted Bach singer, turns in a tremendously funny portrait of the squire, indulges in some whistling in the catalogue aria, some hilarious falsetto singing in the "Instruments" aria. In the duet with Eurilla (CD2 track 8) he is so infatuated that he can only exclaim Ah! Eh! Ih! Oh! in response to her utterances. The audience is audibly amused here as well as every time he appears. Last but not least Christian Gerhaher is a suitably furious blustery Rodomonte with an imposing dark, remarkable voice. He is not only one of the best lieder singers of the day but obviously a great dramatic presence on the opera stage as well.

The recording was made at some concerts in Graz – one of the places where the opera was performed during Haydn’s lifetime – in excellent sound. The presence of an audience is only noticeable when Pasquale is executing some pranks. The booklet has a synopsis and full text and translations. Sabine M. Gruber’s essay is a good read.

So there we are: two extremely enjoyable versions of this remarkable opera. A straightforward recommendation is difficult to give and matters are further complicated by the fact that the Philips recording at present is only available as part of a larger boxed set coupled with some other Haydn operas from the same series. I now own both sets. The Dorati, alas, only on the original LPs which for some reason has accrued a number of pops and cracks as an added "attraction". I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be without either of them. First time buyers are advised to get the Harnoncourt and once you’ve got hooked on Haydn as opera composer you should invest in the Philips boxes as well - there are two with in toto eight operas.

Bottom line: One of the best 18th century operas in a riveting performance that, with ravishing singing from those involved, is more than worth anyone’s money.

Göran Forsling

 



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