VIDEO PODCAST: John Dante Prevedini leads a discussion about Youth Involvement in Classical Music - this specially extended illustrated feature includes contributions from Christopher Morley, Gerald Fenech, Halida Dinova, Patricia Spencer and Roderic Dunnett.
Vocal ensemble Liberata Collective specialises in staging baroque opera using a vocabulary of theatrical gestures known to have been current in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The singers develop these to suit their roles - there is no stage director named - involving not only arms and hands, but also posture and position on stage. How the gestures are delivered, whether forcefully or elegantly, for example, also plays a part. All this would have helped convey the scenario to, say, an eighteenth-century London audience seeing Handel's Italian operas for the first time. The results in Liberata Collective's production of his Orlando were positively choreographic in their eloquence. The audience was provided with a booklet containing a more detailed account of how the language of gesture works, as well as the uncredited English translation, also visible as side-titles - Pavilion Arts Centre, Buxton, UK, 10 July 2023.
The libretto is one of many to draw on Renaissance poet Ludovico Ariosto's epic Orlando Furioso, including those for two of Handel's later operas, Ariodante and Alcina. Orlando, one of Charlemagne's knights, has rescued Angelica - here a princess, rather than the original libretto's Queen of Cathay - and has fallen in love with her. She, however, is married to a prince, Medoro. Dorinda, a shepherdess, is in love with Medoro. The magician Zoroastro watches over the other characters, intervening, Prospero-like, where necessary to set their relationships straight.
The seven instrumentalists of Ensemble Hesperi were seated to the side, directed by violinist Adrian Butterfield, who moved onto the stage when playing the nightingale to Susanna MacRae's poignantly lilting account of Dorinda's aria 'Quando spieghi i tuoi tormenti', as she hears echoes of her pain in the bird's song at the start of Act II.
Joanna Harries brought vocal warmth and flexibility to the role of Medoro. Olivia Doutney made a remarkably still moment of Angelica's aria 'Verdi piante, erbette liete', saying goodbye to the surroundings she's known as she prepares to leave with Medoro, after Zoroastro has warned them that Orlando is mad with jealousy.
As Orlando, Christian Joel was not quite forceful enough in either voice or stage presence, though his gestures had conviction, and he made the most of his celebrated mad scene at the end of Act II, as he hallucinates about persuing Angelica and Medoro to the the underworld. Jolyon Loy was an authoritative Zoroastro, vividly describing a rising storm in 'Sorge infausta'.
The set consisted of just two trees - no designer is credited, for either set or costumes - but that's all that was needed. It may not be quite true that the gestures did the rest, but Liberata Collective has opened up new possibilities by adding another strand to the concept of historical performance.
Tonight's one remaining performance is a sell-out.
Copyright © 21 July 2023