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Recordings of the Month


From Ocean’s Floor


Conner Riddle Songs

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Of Innocence and Experience


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Joseph HAYDN (1723-1809)
Orlando Paladino - Dramma erocomico in three acts (1782)
Marlis Petersen - Angelica; Tom Randle - Orlando; Pietro Spagnoli - Rodomonte; Magnus Staveland - Medoro; Sunhae Im - Eurilla; Alexandrina Pendatchanska - Alcina; Victor Torres - Pasquale:
Freiburger Barockorchester/René Jacobs
rec. Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin, 8 May 2009
Sound Format PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround; Picture Format 16:9, 1080i; Region Worldwide: Subtitles in English, Italian, German and French
Blu-ray Video
Reviewed in surround
EUROARTS 2057784 [168:00]

Haydn operas are not standard fare in the concert hall or opera house nowadays, despite his lifetime success in this genre. Here we have a musical masterpiece of the first order, comparable to Mozart in many respects. However, Haydn himself did say 'hardly any man could stand comparison with the great Mozart'. After this and Armida a year later he proceeded to almost ignore opera. He did write one more, L'anima del filosofo in 1791 but it was not performed in his lifetime. Viewing this curious confection one can see why he focused on other types of music. The problem is his choice of plot. This is that rarest of genres, a heroic-comical drama. Haydn had already mixed the conventions of opera seria and opera buffa in earlier works. After viewing you might be tempted to call this opera montypythona. The libretto is derived from Ariosto's epic poem Orlando furioso from 1532, previously set by Lully, Vivaldi, Handel and others. Haydn's version is extremely hard to summarise but in essence the plot is this. The King of Barbary, Rodomonte, is infatuated with Angelica, the Queen of Cathay. He is determined to protect her from the madly jealous Orlando, Paladin of France. Angelica, not appreciating Rodomonte's attention, uses the services of the sorceress Alcina to protect her from Orlando. Medoro is in love with Angelica and is seen by Orlando as the only impediment to possession of Angelica. There are clashes between King Rodomonte and Paladin Orlando over Angelica which do not serve to settle anything. When Medoro and Angelica are confronted by Orlando only the distraction of a sea monster - here a big pair of scissors! - stops his ferocious attack. When Orlando's fury is directed at Alcina, she, being a sorceress, turns him to stone. Whilst he is still in her power she washes away his madness and returns him to human form. This act resolves the problem because Orlando and Rodomonte then settle their differences. It is now safe for the lovers Angelica and Medoro to be united … as are the sub-plot lovers whom I have not mentioned to keep it simple! I repeat, the problem is the story. Mozart avoided the problem by not choosing such bizarre plots, even Cosi fan tutte is not quite this incredible.
What is any modern director to make of this farrago? The directors are Nigel Lowery and Amir Hosseinpour and they opt for a pantomime approach with strange costumes, bearded ladies and a general sense of dreamlike oddness set in a landscape of cartoon castles, miniature woodlands and strong hints of a pythonesque madhouse. Notably, Alcina the sorceress wanders the stage with a distracted air of one high on drugs. It takes a while to adjust to this concept and there are no explanations in the notes, but be assured it has a sort of lunatic consistency and there is always Haydn's fabulous music. The cast join the directors’ vision as if they believe in it and display wonderful virtuosity and panache in the many arias and accompanied recitatives. Marlis Peterson is spectacularly good as the much-put-upon Angelica and as mentioned, Alexandrina Pendatchanska as Alcina, puts in an inspired piece of characterisation as well as virtuoso singing. Sunhae Im looks like a cross between a Japanese tourist and a confused schoolgirl but sings the role of Eurilla the Shepherdess (don't ask) quite beautifully. No praise is too much for the Freiburger Barockorchester. They quite rightly have the highest of reputations for their playing under director Réne Jacobs on many other recordings, for example of Don Giovanni and La Clemenza di Tito. Here they show as joyful a response to the comedy, lyricism and many dramatic effects of Haydn's opera as they did to his oratorio The Seasons for Harmonia Mundi in 2004.
The sound and picture are absolutely top class. Note that there are strange video ghosting effects in some scenes that I concluded were actually on stage in the performance. There is, as usual, music over the menus. When will we be freed from this curse?

Dave Billinge