MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews

 Clicking Google advertisements helps keep MusicWeb subscription-free.

Other Links

Editorial Board

  • UK Editors  - Roger Jones and John Quinn

    Editors for The Americas  - Bruce Hodges and Jonathan Spencer Jones

    European Editors - Bettina Mara and Jens F Laurson

    Consulting Editor - Bill Kenny

    Assistant Webmaster -Stan Metzger

    Founder - Len Mullenger

Google Site Search


Internet MusicWeb




Handel, Orlando Soloists, Orchestra of Scottish Opera., Conductor: Paul Goodwin. Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 05.03.2011 (SRT)

Orlando - Tim Mead

Angelica - Sally Silver

Medoro - Andrew Radley

Dorinda - Claire Booth

Zoroastro - Andreas Wolf

Orchestra of Scottish Opera

Paul Goodwin (conductor)


Harry Fehr (director)

Yannis Thavoris (designer)

Anna Watson (lighting)

The modern onward march of Handel's operas, so notable south of the border, has been rather more troubled in Scotland. The most recent features have included a poorly received Scottish Opera Semele and an EIF Admeto that sounded good but looked awful. The trouble comes when producers try to take works that are at heart mythical and fantastical and interpret them for contemporary audiences: do you trust the original setting and go for magic and monsters, or do you seek a solution that grounds it more in our flesh and blood modern world?

Happily, Scottish Opera seem largely to have got it right this time around. Harry Fehr's production contains barely a hint of the work's fantastical origins. Instead the work is set in a London military hospital in 1940. Orlando is an RAF pilot caught between his duty to fight and his love for the American socialite Angelica. She, however, loves another soldier, Medoro. Both are tended by the nurse, Dorinda, and the psychiatrist Zoroastro. Hence in the opening scene Zoroastro reads Orlando's fate not in the stars but in the chart of an MRI scan, and the images he conjures up to focus him on his duty are not of gods and monsters but of Edward and Mrs Simpson visiting Hitler, the ultimate dereliction of duty. Orlando's madness sets in as the blitz begins and he is cured not by magic but by electrotherapy. For me the concept worked very well: nothing expressly got in the way, save a few unaltered aspects of the English translation that got through the net - I doubt, for example, that many in 1940s London had much need to "saddle their trusty steed". The set revolved between rooms to aid the many changes of scene and, as with Fehr's Secret Marriage of 2008, he kept a secret room for the final act to act as Orlando's padded cell. There are enough hints of the hospital garden to serve the work's pastoral side and subtle video projections give us windows into the characters' psyches without becoming obtrusive. The dramatic power of the work is, if anything, increased by the sensitivity of the updating, though the high number of (presumably unintentional) laughs could have been looked at by the production team.

Musically the evening was strong too. Heading the cast in the title role was Tim Mead, the best thing about the EIF's Admeto in 2009. The voice seems more mature now, though perhaps less beautiful and just a little hollow. Still, the icy quality lent itself well to the depiction of madness and he easily trumped Andrew Radley's pale Medoro, making you wonder why the ladies don't fall for him instead. Claire Booth's Dorinda was charming, with just a hint of the Carry On Nurse about her, especially beautiful in her Nightingale aria at the start of Act 2. The finest turn of the evening, however, was Sally Silver's Angelica, her fulsome, rich voice soaring above the stave and providing just the right amount of noble colour to a character who isn't exactly sympathetic. Andreas Wolf sang Zoroastro with impeccable English and rich tone but not quite enough power to make himself easily heard. Handel specialist Paul Goodwin presided over a much slimmed down band in the pit, producing an intelligently characteristic 18th Century sound. Handel's score for this opera is fairly uniform, so the colour added by extra obbligato, say horns and recorders for certain arias, was most welcome, nowhere more so than during the aria when Orlando is soothed to sleep in the third act to the accompaniment of two viole d'amore.

In an opera season that is not exactly packed with box office winners it was good to see the Edinburgh Festival Theatre so well filled. Scottish Opera passed the challenge of making this work speak to us today and to appeal to a wide audience. If anything, however, their next challenge will be even greater when they mount Strauss's Intermezzo at the end of this month. Watch this space...

Simon Thompson



Back to Top                                                   Cumulative Index Page