Baroque opera has had the good fortune of finding itself in excitingly refreshed form over the last few decades. As it stands, so accustomed are we at having a director come along and upheave original settings with an ideas-rich adaptation designed to shed contemporary light on the source material, that it could make you feel that turning back the clock to match ‘period’ interpretations seems rather ordinary and unproductive. San Francisco Opera’s Orlando, from British director Harry Fehr, boldly takes the more modernised approach and it fits like a glove on Handel’s opera almost 300 years on.
|Sasha Cooke (centre) as Orlando and Christian Van Horn as Zoroastro|
In fine soap opera form, the plot turns like a rotisserie. Mighty RAF officer Orlando (Sasha Cooke) is undergoing therapy with the hope of returning to the front. He’s in love with the wealthy Angelica (Heidi Stober). She has met and fallen in love with Medoro (Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen), a convalescing soldier. He loves her too but has to deflect advances from their attending nurse, Dorinda (Christina Gansch). A quite creepy Zoroastro (Christian Van Horn) heads the facility with a trick or two up his sleeve - nothing more confronting than a few rounds of electroshock therapy - that will restore Orlando’s sanity after he suffers a bout of jealousy and madness when he realises Angelica may not be his for the taking.
|Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen as Medoro|
Yannis Thavoris’ slick streamlined design, based on London’s 1930s Royal Masonic Hospital and treatment centre for WWII servicemen, pivots from examination room to hospital ward, reception and corridors with ease. Medical, military and civilian costumes are tastefully matched and Anna Watson’s original lighting design casts both the drama at point and the artificiality of the interior. Projections by Andrzej Goulding flash across the lengthy opaque glass walls whenever we’re supposed to see what Orlando might be thinking but they do more to detract than involve. Just one moment succeeds when Orlando undergoes electroshock therapy and the wall explodes with imagery. The only other drawback comes with its smallish, oft-felt shoebox proportions within the grand height of the War Memorial Opera House’s proscenium. That the production was designed for the smaller Theatre Royal in Glasgow for the Scottish National Opera when it premiered in 2011 shows.
|Christina Gansch as Dorinda, Heidi Stober as Angelica|
and Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen as Medoro
But there’s no shortage of Handel’s beautiful and memorable music, awash from start to end across the almost three and a half hour evening. On splendid show around Orlando, countertenor and current Adler Fellow Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen gives the mid-opera aria, “Verdi allori”, a notable, melting centrepiece. His Medoro is charming and suitably reserved as he denies romantic associations with Angelica, the voice projecting confidently with a radiant milk and honey tone that will go onto many a world stage.
|Sasha Cooke as Orlando and Christian Van Horn as Zoroastro|
In this Wednesday evening performance, warmth, opulence and resonance emanated from the pit under English conductor Christopher Moulds in his company debut. Overall, however, signature baroque regality presided where room for dynamism could have been made. Nevertheless, instrumental exchanges were executed with vivacity courtesy of smooth and solid playing by the San Francisco Opera Orchestra - Act 3’s orchestral opening dished out some impressive wafer-like woodwind work.
Fehr’s creation gives a modern audience a hugely satsfying resolution of Handel’s Orlando and he might make you wonder what happens in the next episodes of Ariosto’s sprawling Orlando Furioso in its various operatic forms. Will this absorbing WWII series be continued?
San Francisco Opera
War Memorial Opera House
Until 27th June, 2019
Production Photos: Cory Weaver