Handel's Orlando, first performed in London in 1733, tells the story of a well-respected soldier who does not want to fight because he has been emotionally hurt by Angelica, who he loves. However, she has fallen in love with Medoro, a wounded soldier who is also loved by Dorinda, who is caring for him. Orlando is descending into madness and Zoroastro tries to intervene to get Orlando back to his profession as a soldier.
Director Harry Fehr, has formulated the concept of setting this production in a war-time private hospital where Orlando is battling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Medoro is a physically injured patient, Dorinda is a nurse caring for them both, Zoroastro is a psychiatrist treating Orlando and Angelica is portrayed as a chic, forceful woman.
The curtain remained lowered during the overture, which was a positive move. The conductor, the youthful looking Andrew Griffiths who obviously relished every note, created pure joy with his enthusiasm and clear direction, musically resulting in style, elegance and forward motion – all essential in Handel's music.
The curtain rose to reveal Yannis Thavoris' magnificent 1940s hospital set design where Orlando, (Lawrence Zazzo) is undergoing electric shock treatment overseen by Zoroastro, (Daniel Grice) who launches into a vigorous aria displaying his wonderful bass voice with clean long vocal runs which are used to establish his character.
The first act predominantly comprises of a succession of da-capo arias; this format is so ingeniously used as the coloratura and cadenzas are all employed as part of the action rather than mere virtuosic display. Momentum was maintained by the clock-work precision of the revolving set and staging and some members of the WNO chorus in supporting roles, again moving with sharp attention to detail. I thought the use of back projection really worked well too and was informative to the context of the narrative.
Lawrence Zazzo gave an outstanding performance as Orlando, both vocally and dramatically bringing varied vocal colour into his voice which projected well. He was totally committed throughout and by using looks, movement and vocal dexterity he gave a convincing portrayal of Orlando's descent into madness. Robin Blaze used his soft pure beautiful tone to tenderly portray the contrasting sensitive character of Medoro. Fflur Wynn captured the crushed confused state of Dorinda with accomplished, perceptive singing, beautifully delivered with agility in the 'Nightingale' aria.
Rebeccca Evans was stunning as Angelica, calculating, elegant, yet still exposing some vulnerability. The rich warm tones in her voice conveyed throughout her whole vocal range, there was a special moment in her aria close to the end of act two where the orchestra paused and her voice hovered effortlessly.
To add a bit of extra excitement to the evening, the music stand lighting of the violin section failed just before a brisk paced aria was about to commence, after a brief look of horror the musicians splendidly persevered in the dark, relying on their muscle memories until a deft technician restored illumination.
This was indeed a memorable night at the New Theatre, thank you WNO!