MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around

and more.. and still writing ...


Search MusicWeb Here


Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer

International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider


paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

100th birthday of Mieczyslaw Weinberg on December 8, 2019.
Renate Eggbrecht has recorded all 3 violin Sonatas
All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Salon Treasures from the Max Jaffa Library



Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Discs for review may be sent to:
Jonathan Woolf
76 Lushes Road
Essex IG10 3QB
United Kingdom


Neuwirth Orlando 760708
Support us financially by purchasing from

Olga Neuwirth (b. 1968)
Orlando: a fictional musical biography in 19 scenes (2019)
Libretto by Catherine Filloux and Olga Neuwirth based on the novel of the same name by Virginia Woolf
Kate Lindsey (Orlando)
Anna Clementi (Narrator)
Eric Jurenas (Guardian Angel)
Constance Hauman (Queen/Purity/Friend of Orlando’s child)
Leigh Melrose (Greene/Shelmerdine)
Justin Vivian Bond (Orlando’s Child)
Agneta Eichenholz (Sasha/Chastity)
Wiener Staatsoper/ Matthias Pintscher
Stage Director: Polly Graham
rec. December 2019, Wiener Staatsoper
Sung in English (original language)
C MAJOR 760708 DVD [2 discs: 181]

This was my first encounter with the music of Olga Neuwirth, an Austrian composer who has had a brilliant career and won a number of prizes. She has been extensively recorded, notably by the Kairos label, and you can find various reviews on MWI. She has already written a number of stage works, but this is her biggest one yet: a full-length opera, and the first opera by a woman to be commissioned by and performed at the Vienna State Opera. It was a great success and won the Grawemayer award.

It is loosely based on Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando, published in 1928. This is described as a biography, and it is based on the family life of Woolf’s long-term friend and sometime lover, the gardener and writer Vita Sackville-West. It starts with Orlando as a young man at the court of Elizabeth I. However, he continues for four hundred years, without getting significantly older, but during the time of Charles II finds that he has turned into a woman. She dresses alternately as a woman and as a man and has numerous adventures. However, Orlando has always wanted to write, and started a long poem, The Oak Tree, in Elizabethan times. Eventually she finishes it as a novel and it is published at the end of the book.

I think Woolf regarded this book as a jeu d’esprit, lighter than her other novels, and that was certainly the spirit in which I read it, many years ago. It has been extremely popular – there is a rather good film of it with Tilda Swinton – and it provided financial stability for Woolf. However, in recent years it has been taken more seriously, as a study of the role of women, of gender and sexuality and the difficulties for women writers. This is the spirit in which Neuwirth and her co-librettist Catherine Filloux take it.

Somewhat to my surprise, the work is set in English, though I had the subtitles on, to make sure I could follow the often complicated action. There is a narrator, a spoken role taken by an actor, who explains what is going on, particularly in the early scenes, and Orlando also has her guardian angel, a countertenor, who is present nearly throughout. The action follows the novel rather loosely, but with one important difference: whereas the novel ends in 1928, the year of publication, the opera goes on to 2019, the year of its completion.

This is where my problems begin. There is little narrative drive, and curiously little is made of Orlando’s literary aspirations until suddenly near the end. The use of a narrator and of a large cast of characters who don’t reappear (although some roles are doubled) means that the work becomes a series of tableaux rather than a story. This is particularly true of the post-1928 scenes, in which vignettes of current political issues follow one another in quick succession and Orlando’s Child, of neutral gender, suddenly assumes a major role and rants. There is a good deal of spoken word in the later scenes and the writing here is stunningly banal, so that, although I am sympathetic to the issues raised, I winced.

The music is very busy, with a good deal of pastiche of the styles of the various periods covered by the opera. The orchestra is of moderate size (despite what some people have said), but it includes two synthesizers, and there is also a small onstage band, with another synthesizer, for a pastiche pop song later on. The work is divided into nineteen scenes which follow one another with short orchestral interludes, and the action gets increasingly fast and furious as it proceeds. Orlando has some pleasant lyrical writing and there are opportunities for the Queen (based on Elizabeth I), some allegorical roles such as Purity, Modesty and Chastity, for Shelmerdine, Orlando’s husband, and her Child. There is also a large number of minor roles, a chorus and a children’s choir.

The production is lavish in the extreme. The director, Polly Graham, has made extensive use of video projections and these are deployed with great virtuosity. The costumes, by Comme des Garçons, are fantastical and elaborate and some of them are quite hideous: that for the Queen particularly so.

All concerned enter into their work with a will. Kate Lindsey makes a great success of the title role, with her part deliberately kept low in tessitura while she is a man and then allowed some coloratura when she becomes a woman. The actor Anna Clementi makes something of the rather thankless role of narrator. Of the other parts I was particularly struck by Constance Hauman’s Queen (despite the costume) and Leigh Melrose’s Shelmerdine. Justin Vivian Bond, a transgender cabaret artist was, to my mind, too prominent as Orlando’s Child, but that was the responsibility of Filloux and Neuwirth. The chorus and orchestra were excellent and the children’s choir, who have to act as well as sing, did well. From the applause at the end and the obvious and deserved satisfaction of the performers they all did the work proud. So did the technicians who made the DVD, where the vision and sound were clear, even in the most complex passages. There is the usual bonus of a few interviews on the DVD as well as an essay by Neuwirth in the booklet.

So why can I not join in the general chorus of praise which has greeted this work? There are some basic weaknesses. The story, as presented, is not strong enough. The action is complicated without being particularly revealing and the minor characters are too many. Orlando’s relationships with other people are not strong or significant. Above all, the music is not memorable. I got little sense of Neuwirth’s own idiom, as distinct from those she pastiched or parodied. Of course this is a work which everyone wanted to succeed. The public for new opera – rather different from that for earlier works – is hungry for really good new works, is sympathetic to the issues of gender identity and the rights of women and keen to acknowledge a woman composer. But here I think they are taking the will for the deed. There are good recent operas, such as Thomas Adès’ The Tempest and The Exterminating Angel and George Benjamin’s Written on Skin and Lessons in Love and Violence, and, if you want an opera by a woman, I recommend Kaija Saariaho’s L’amour de loin. All these seem to me to have much more staying power than Orlando, whose very modishness will make it date quickly. Still, if you want to see what the fuss was all about, this DVD will show you.

Stephen Barber

Video details
Subtitles in English, German, Korean and Japanese
Picture format NTSC 16:9
Sound format PCM Stereo DTS 5.1
Region Code 0

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

Eloquence recordings
All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Recordings of the Month

July 2022

John Luther Adams Houses of the Wind
John Luther Adams
Houses of the Wind

Horneman Alladin
Horneman Alladin

Stojowski piano concertos
Piano Concertos 1 & 2

Vaughan Williams on Brass

Yi Lin Jiang - Dualis I

June 2022

Beethoven Sonatas 29, 32

Orchestral Works

String Quartets Vol 1