Hogwood: Handel - Orlando (3 CD, FLAC)
Hogwood: Handel - Orlando (3 CD, FLAC)

Performer: James Bowman, Arleen Auger, Cathering Robbin, David Thomas
Orchestra: The Academy of Ancient Music
Conductor: Christopher Hogwood
Composer: George Frideric Handel
Audio CD
SPARS Code: DDD
Number of Discs: 3
Format: FLAC (tracks)
Label: Decca
Size: 658 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

Orlando, opera, HWV 31
Composed by George Frideric Handel
Performed by Academy of Ancient Music (UK)
with James Bowman, Catherine Robbin, Emma Kirkby, David [bass] Thomas, Arleen Auger
Conducted by Christopher Hogwood

Disc: 1
01. Ouvertura
02. Act 1. Gieroglifici eterni
03. Act 1. Stimulato dalla gloria
04. Act 1. Purgalo ormai da effeminati sensi
05. Act 1. Sinfonia
06. Act 1. Mira, e prendi l’esempio… Lascia Amor
07. Act 1. Imagini funeste
08. Act 1. Non fu già men forte Alcide
09. Act 1. Quanto diletto avea… Io non so
10. Act 1. Itene pur tremendo
11. Act 1. Ho un certo rossore
12. Act 1. M’hai vinto al fin
13. Act 1. Ritornava al suo bel viso
14. Act 1. Spera, mio ben… Chi possessore
15. Act 1. Ecco Dorinda
16. Act 1. Se il cor mai ti dirà
17. Act 1. Povera me!… O care parolette
18. Act 1. Noti a me sono
19. Act 1. Se fedel vuoi, ch’io ti creda
20. Act 1. T’ubbidirò… Fammi combattere
21. Act 1. Angelica, deh lascia
22. Act 1. O Angelica, o Medoro
23. Act 1. Consolati o bella

Disc: 2
01. Act 2. Quando spieghi i tuoi tormenti
02. Act 2. Perchè, gentil Dorinda
03. Act 2. Se mi rivolgo al prato
04. Act 2. E’ questa la mercede… Cielo! Se tu il consenti
05. Act 2. A qual rischio vi espone
06. Act 2. Tra caligini profonde
07. Act 2. Da queste amiche piante
08. Act 2. Verdi allori
09. Act 2. Dopo tanti perigli… Non potrà dirmi ingrata
10. Act 2. Dove, dove guidate… Verdi piante
11. Act 2. Ah perfida, qui sei!
12. Act 2. Ah Stigie larve!
13. Act 2. Già latra Cerbero
14. Act 2. Vaghe pupille, non piangete, no

Disc: 3
01. Act 3. Sinfonia
02. Act 3. Di Dorinda alle mura
03. Act 3. Vorrei poterti amar
04. Act 3. Più obbigata gli sono
05. Act 3. Unisca amor in noi
06. Act 3. Già lo stringo
07. Act 3. Di Dorinda all’albergo
08. Act 3. Così giusta è questa speme
09. Act 3. S’è corrisposto un core… Amor è qual vento
10. Act 3. Impari ognun da Orlando… O vo del mio poter ministri eletti
11. Act 3. Sorge infausta una procella
12. Act 3. Finché prendi ancora
13. Act 3. Vieni – Vanne precipitando… Già per la man d’Orlando
14. Act 3. Già l’ebro mio ciglio
15. Act 3. Ecco il tempo prefisso!… Tu che del gran tonante
16. Act 3. Sinfonia
17. Act 3. Ah! che fate signor?/ Sinfonia
18. Act 3. Dormo ancora
19. Act 3. Per far mia diletta
20. Act 3. Che vedo, oh dei!
21. Act 3. Trionfa oggi’l mio cor

Orlando Maestoso.

This is an unsurpassed, unmatched recording of one of the most significant Handel’s operas. The more one listens to it and learns about the subject, the more one is astonished to realise that this fabulous masterpiece of an opera – from the musical and dramatic standpoint – had laid in obscurity for 240 years until resurrecting relatively recently, with this Christopher Hogwood directed music being one of the modern time revivals. The result is simply spectacular, and it owes it to the confluence of the best – the original story of “Orlando Furioso” by Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533); the genius of the composer – Handel; the most sensitive treatment by the conductor Christopher Hogwood, and of course finally, or firstly (as it would be in the Baroque era when the opera was premiered) – the best possible ensemble of singers, starring incomparable Arleen Auger, followed by great talents of Emma Kirkby and James Bowman.

The opera was premiered on January 27 (the future Mozart’s birthday!) 1733 in the King’s Theater in London. There were 10 performances; the Queen attended the second and left before the finale, with her empty chair speaking of “grief”. The title role went to Senesino, who supposedly was not too pleased with it since it broke conventions of a prescribed number of da capo arias for the primo uomo yet made him sing a highly unusual, innovative piece – Orlando’s mad scene with its shifting harmonies and times, made to convey the sense of chaos and disorder that afflicted the hero. It was the last cooperation of Handel and Senesino; it could be said that the whole opera signified the pinnacle of Handel’s operatic career, which began to experience difficulties shortly thereafter.

The opera was not revived until 1959 at the Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon, England.

For an insightful listener and opera lover, this opus is a source of endless fascination. The story by Ariosto is revolutionary in many aspects, and his epic poem “Orlando Furioso” took European intellectual elite by the storm when it was first published. It challenged and even mocked conventional beliefs that women are most attracted by proud heroes; it is interesting to note that rich discussions on this subject are immortalised by Baltassare Castiglione in his book “Il Cortegiano”; no wonder – Ariosto and Castiglione were contemporaries, and Ippolito d’Este, Ariosto’s patron, was a brother to Isabella d’Este, whose sister-in-law, Elisabetta Gonzaga, was Castiglione’s benefactress. This Renaissance approach to the idea of love and female preference is in such a total contract with an opposite spirit of the libertine baroque Don Giovanni.

The inner world and the psychology of the self-conceited hero are so marvelously illuminated by Ariosto. In Orlando we see a man full of vainglory, to the point of being completely dumb and disdainful to the feelings of those who he proclaims he loves. Can such a man love at all, or he treats the object of his love as a trophy, who, in return for his valor, is now obliged to stick to him forever in gratitude and adoration? Astonishingly perceptive, Ariosto, and Handel with his music, depict a man whose love is merely possession; and once he cannot have what he wants or cannot manipulate what he thinks is his – Angelica – he kills it (even though he does not succeed – but he does not know it at the moment of killing the woman he swore he loved). It seems that a Renaissance poet, Ariosto, deems Orlando unworthy of love – and Handel’s libretto fully supports this view with the role of Zoroastro, who at the very beginning advises Orlando to abandon love pursuits and return to “Alla gloria militar”.

(It must be noted that the original libretto used by Handel was written by Carlo Sigismondo Capeci and was put to music by Domenico Scarlatti. That opera “L’Orlando, overo La gelosa pazzia” was produced in Rome in 1711. Certainly borrowing anything was much to Handel’s fashion, and thus he borrowed the libretto, albeit changing it to include the role of Zoroastro for Montagnana, a famous bass.)

Then was Angelica right in abandoning Orlando, as if she had never trusted his supposed “love”?

Now another line of the Ariosto’s multi-layered story starts – The Loves of Angelica and Medoro. There is hardly any Baroque artist that did not paint on the subject; the most famous is probably the “Angelica e Medoro” fresco cycle made by Giambattista Tiepolo in 1757 in Villa Valmarana in Vicenza. Curiously, in Handel’s native town Halle in the local art museum Stiftung Moritzburg Kunstmuseum des Landes Sachsen-Anhalt there is a drawing cycle by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, one of the patronised artists by Ludwig I of Bavaria, of the same story – Orlando, Angelica and Medoro; the drawings are dated by 1827. Why was this subject so popular, with Ariosto’s book becoming a sensation in its day and living its fame for five hundred years, continuing to stirring minds today? Perhaps the answer could be that Angelica and Medoro represent the much worshiped subjects by their Renaissance creator Ariosto – Art and Beauty. Their union symbolises victory of love, art and beauty over the brute force and cruelty, represented by Orlando.

The marvelous theme of a woman falling in love with a beautiful and humble youth, who is a simple soldier, vulnerable and gentle – not at all a ruthless, haughty, selfish hero, a nephew of Charlemagne, a carrier of other numberless regalia – is extremely fascinating and so truthful. A parallel line could be drawn that one falls in love with those one saves – as Angelica found Medoro in dire needs; she tended to his wounds and rescued him. It is really impossible to think of these Ariosto’s pages and amazing Handel’s duet in the opera “Ritornavo sul bel viso” without having Tiepolo’s images conjure up in mind! I believe Handel achieved his very best in this incredible duet, which is made ever more beautiful by being sung by Arleen Auger, whose voice truly makes us believe that Angelica was a lady of a divine beauty, as an angel. Arleen Auger’s genius is absolutely phenomenal – the way she delivers this role on this recording is simply sensational. She is truly one of the greatest singers of our time – one can listen more to her Bach cantatas, her songs and revel in her magic gift.

Returning to the story and music, it is interesting to ponder who was the inspiration for the protagonist character Orlando. Who could influence Ludovico Ariosto? He was a count himself, a noble from a distinguished kin; his father Count Niccolo Ariosto was the administrator of the city of Ferrara for the Este family. He dies in 1500, leaving young Ludovico, the eldest of ten children, in charge of the household. Naturally, Ludovico continued his father’s tradition and served to Este family. Thus, could Orlando be drawn from the Ariosto’s employer, the vicious and arrogant Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, who is famous for his countryside magnificent residence as Tivoli – Villa d’Este.

It is amusing to think on the sidelines that Villa d’Este inspired numerous artists and musicians, and Liszt devoted his music to it – Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este (The Fountains of the Villa d’Este) from his Années de pèlerinage. However, Cardinal Ippolito did not possess as much beauty of character as his Villa, and Stendhal tells us a story that happened during Ariosto’s service at Cardinal Ippolito’s in 1505 (see Stendhal “Promenades dans Rome” deuxieme serie, the chapter “Anecdote du cardinal Hyppolyte d’Este e de son frere don Jules”). According to the story, Cardinal Ippolito wished to win favors of Angela Borgia, cousin of the famous Duchess Lucrezia Borgia, whose lover was Don Giulio, Ippolito’s brother.

One day, refusing Ippolito’s advances, she said to him: “Monsignore, your brother’s [Giulio’s] eyes are worth more than the whole of your person…” If mad before, Ippolito became insatiably furious; he planned an ambush. Giulio was caught alone by Ippolito’s servants who partially succeeded to stab his eyes; although Giulio did not lose sight completely, he was left disfigured. Since that day, Giulio was conspiring against Ippolito, but the attempt of revenge turn out against him. He was imprisoned by Ippolito for fifty three years in Este Castle.

It is difficult not to draw parallels between Ippolito-Giulio and Orlando-Medoro. Of course, in his beautiful fairytale Ariosto rewarded love and beauty – luckily, this was long before the times of Baudelaire, which Stendhal would undoubtedly call the triumph of flourishing evil and prosperity of vice. And we are lucky, too, to revel in Ariosto’s ideal.

Another advantage of our times is being able to listen to such wonders as this recording, and even see this opera live. I was privileged by fate to admire it twice last year – the first time in Halle, during the annual Handel’s festival in June 2010. Although the singing was quite good – and all the singers in Halle Opera were young and aspiring actors (Orlando – Owen Willetts, Angelica – Marie Friederike Schoder, Medoro – Dmitry Egorov) – the production itself was awfully vulgar, with annoying mimes on the scene at all times; it was better just to close the eyes to not see the atrocity taking place on the stage; but the singing and music would remind of this recording.

However in Paris last November (2010) the new Orlando production was absolutely splendid – the costumes were set in Handel’s time, so beautiful and opulent, and the background ballet was phenomenal, justifiably for Paris. The singing with Sonia Prina as Orlando was excellent – forceful and raging, exactly as a despised and rejected hero should sound. However James Bowman in this recording sounds more virtuosic and agile, while Sonia Prina sometimes struggled with the demands of this role. Also, her voice was too female, as Patricia Bardon’s voice in William Christie’s recording. Angelica, sung by Henriette Bonde-Hansen, was turned into a habitual victim de rigueur, apparently to please the French taste – the production was by Lille, Dijon and Paris combined (a woman in bondage must be as a pleasing sight for the French eye as a gun for a German one – no opera in German would go without some gun on stage, and Orlando in Halle was no exception) but perhaps for that reason this Parisian Angelique lost her pride from too much abuse by Orlando and did not sound as enchanting as Arleen Auger on this recording. Yet it was a great production and it is only regrettable that there is no DVD made out of it – while it was so much more superior to the currently only available DVD of this opera with Marijana Mijanovic in the title role.

Concluding, this opera is so vast a subject that a whole book could be written of its merits; yet even a more ordinary opera lover would delight in many of its parts, which can be found on various CDs as separate numbers, sung by many illustrious singers; some of the most notable, apart from the aforementioned duet, are:

“Fammi combattere (Orlando),
“Consolati o bella” – a trio by Angelica, Medoro and Dorinda; perhaps the most beautiful trio that Handel ever composed,
“Quando spiegi” (Dorinda),
“Verdi allori” (Medoro),
“Ah Stigie larve!” (Orlando),
“Finche prendi” (Angelica),

yet what a great experience is to hear the whole opus, as Handel envisioned it, sung by the very best in ensemble! This recording is truly a must-have, and even though we seem to live in times when the interest to Baroque opera is increasing, and “Orlando” will hopefully conquer its due place on the world stage, this recording will probably remain a benchmark for any future production.

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