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This is clearly one of the best, if not the best opera of Handel. Wonderful music, a very intelligent plot, and the best songs you can imagine. The Zurich interpretation is a modern one; it puts the action in a sanatorium at the beginning of the 20th century. However it is a complete success. I desperately tried to find some negative point to report, but I did not discover one. The singers all sing and act at a very high level of expertise, and the recording of the sound and of the pictures is amazing. Christie's orchestra plays the music so colourfully that one could listen to it for days. This is the first and only recording of Orlando on DVD, but it puts the standard so high that it may not be equalled soon.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant, but after all Mijanovic is in it, so greatness doesn't come as a suprise !Dec 12 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
Personally, I'm very fond of Marijana Mijanovic. As I've already said, she's one of the rare artists who dares to sing in her own original way. The voice is as unusual and odd as beautiful. It's always a bit shocking to hear a woman, well, a lady with such a virile and masculine voice, which is probably why some people aren't fond of her artistry. Here, she's at home dramatically throughout the opera. Vocally, she varies from breathtakingly superb (as in Fammi combaterre, Non Fu Gia Men Forte Alcide), to passable (as in Cielo! Se tu il consenti). In the latter, although she shows incredible dramatic comittment, she vocalises in a awkard way possibly due to untimely inspirations. Let's keep in mind though that she's suffered from serious health problems which have endangered and weakened her voice, so considering it her rendition of "Cielo! se tu il consenti" remains good. I can't help wondering how she would've sung that aria five years earlier when she was in great form... Anyway, she's back from a year of sick leave (and pregnancy), and what've heard since she came back seems to indicate that she's back to greatness... To be continued. Now, this Orlando also introduced me to a name I hadn't heard of before : the divine "Martina Jankova". What an amazingly beautiful voice! what a great dramatic performer! and what a woman! I think she' greatly underrated and doesn't get the recognition she truly deserves... But who knows, a lead role in Orlando might've opened new doors for her, and maybe she's soon release her first recital... One is allowed to dream all right.
The rest of the cast, is nice... not great, but good.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A Dazzling Orlando from ZurichFeb. 20 2009
G P Padillo
- Published on Amazon.com
From the very start, Christie led a historically informed and authentic sounding band, pacing them with a rare, dramatic drive and employing special orchestral effects that rendered more modern stage gadgetry almost entirely without necessity. There was plenty of sting and bite when called for, the strings digging into the meat of the music, and there was also an almost restrained lyricism that at times made me feel like I was truly listening to the music of the gods. ( I just read several reviews taking Christie to task and calling his effort here, "dull" - I cannot imagine a less apt description than "dull" for his work here - it is never less than thrilling.)
There is a lot of "meat" for the title character and I was pleased that Christie had at his disposal a contralto, rather than countertenor for this part. The choice of Marijana Mijanovi' is an interesting and wise one. Miss Mijanovi''s voice has a sort of bottled-up quality much more similar in timbre and weight to a countertenor than any female singer I can recall hearing since the Baroque Boom. Slender and elegant, she also (and without resorting to artificial facial hair) makes a rather believable guy. Some of her coloratura (particularly in the last act, where I fear she may also have been running out of steam), was unusually produced, a mixture of the aspirated and chug-a-chug varieties - but it also seemed to be borne of a dramatic, rather than musical choice. Regardless , Mijanovi' gives a bold, theatrical performance. Her depiction of the hero's madness in the last 20 or so minutes of the second act were delightfully and theatrically horrific. This performance was particularly startling to me as several reviews I'd read complained that Mijanovi' was "unconvincing" in the trousers part. To the contrary, her turn here is one of the MOST convincing male impersonator I've yet seen.
Having already witnessed an axe-wielding Orlando, our hero begins the final scene of the act on a mostly darkened stage, appearing in a doorway, light streaming out, the ax in high relief. As a life-long horror fan, it always does my heart good to see directors not skimp on the shock factor (without resorting to the schlock factor) and with this one simple image, Jens-Daniel Herzog won a fan for life.
While I enjoyed her overall, I wish I could be even more enthusiastic about the performance of Martina Janková as Angelica. Looking remarkably like Charlize Theron in "Head in the Clouds" (right down to her costumes and wigs) she is a beguiling stage beauty. The voice, in its middle range is warm, with a feminine gorgeousness to it. Unfortunately, as she gets to the upper range and her extension, I found the sound tremulous and edgy, and not always properly tuned. Super high notes (which felt unnecessarily added on) had a particularly screechy sound, probably more noticeable in this recording than live in the house.
Basso, Konstantin Wolff both in voice and visage made an imposing, impressive Zoroastro. The voice had a rich, bloom and he dispatched his coloratura elegantly and with authority. The very bottom of his voice tended towards the gravel-voiced or even inaudible, which can diminish - if only slightly - the effectiveness of Handel's music for him, but everything else was so spot on - including his wonderful acting - that he made the role work and his contribution was a major one.
With less time to shine than anyone else on stage, Katharina Peetz was pleasant as Medoro, while not bowling me over entirely. Additionally, Ms. Peetz wasn't at all helped by the wardrobe mistress who made her Medoro appear as if an extra in a regional production of "The Most Happy Fella."
This leaves the role of Dorinda and the discovery of my new crush: Christina Clark. The American soprano from Toledo, Ohio is one of the brightest discoveries I've seen or heard in several years. A little digging revealed she primarily works in Europe these days, though about a decade ago won accolades on these shores, singing the title role of Joplin's "Treemonisha" for Opera Theatre of St. Louis).
A naturally effervescent personality (at times she almost seems to exude sparkles) with a clear, radiant and flexible lightweight voice, her coloratura is of the razzle-dazzle variety. She nails what seem to be about 30 trills in this music without batting an eye (okay, maybe once she bats an eye . . . sue me!) and Dorinda's music - clearly the most virtuostic in this score, is dispatched with a sense of élan and overall joy that is positively infectious. Clark appears to be a completely natural stage performer, and whenever she is onstage you can't help but keep your eyes glued to her. She's a good "reactor" - always paying attention to her fellow principals to the point where her reactions are as important as their cause. While I enjoyed much of the "business" from the other singers it, at times, felt studied or tagged on. None of this is true with Ms. Clark's performance - every action feeling germane to Dorinda's plight, including her interpolated giggles and sobs which, too often with operatic voices, come off as gimmicky and false. Clark is definitely someone to watch for, but hands off . . . she's mine!
Herzog's production at first annoyed me, moving the 8th Century era to a Fin de siècle sanitarium, with its seemingly never ending "Upstairs/Downstairs" parade of servants and nurses. It did not, however, take long for me to be absorbed by this conceit, the director, conductor and cast winning me over with brilliant musicmaking, above-par operatic action, marvelous costumes, sliding panels and ever shifting spaces for action.
While this has never been my favorite Handelian score, as here presented, the music flows beautifully, aria-after-aria, its ensembles, few and small in number, including a beautiful and rare (for Handel) trio sung with exquisite feeling and sense of time. The baroque balance between drama and comedy are perfectly balanced and there is little not to enjoy in its 3 or so nicely paced hours. This was a genuine joy.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Listening too much to the cuckoo clock in the cuckoo nest...July 17 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
...produces results like this. What one word could describe this Swiss massacre of Handel's music and Ariosto's ideas? Desecration. My pen could employ many more - poorly sung; banal, unimaginative, tired on every turn; and I am not even talking of lacking of any original , new and creative ideas that would bring out something new from the richness of the music, story and their history. The production is so utterly pathetic that it could not even approach a level where a discussion of innovation could start.
First of all, what about a mise-en-scene concept of Orlando as a patient in a lunatic asylum? How many times has this medical idea been already used and abused? It's more tired than anything, but this time Zurich seemed to really act as to outperform every trite production in a dazzling array of painfully familiar cliches - there was a ubiquitous suitcase, a telephone, an axe (ok, they substituted a usual gun with a axe, perhaps I should add one star for that); some pitiful gratuitous sex which did not look erotic at all, and that pathetic laundry. Didn't we see the laundry in Zurich Der Rosenkavalier R. Strauss - Der Rosenkavalier / Stemme, Kasarova, Hartelius, Muff, Chuchrova, Groissbock, Gotzen, Vogel, Welser-Most, Zurich Opera quite recently? What is this madness? Maybe it's a sign of the Swiss obsession with cleanliness?
Every idea of the book/libretto has been perverted. Orlando is a hospitalized mental patient; Angelica is sly syrupy wanton, Dorinda is a maid in a uniform and an apron (goodness, how incredibly creative is this!) and Zoroastro a cruel psychiatrist. Well, this was already enough to sigh from disappointment. But how about the musical side of the show?
Zurich had attempted to cast a female singer as Orlando, not a countertenor. The idea is good, as no countertenor could ever sound like Senesino, for whom the role was created. But the role requires a GREAT alto who can sustain the challenge of singing through the whole opera. Alas, Marijana Mijanovich could not. At her opening aria "Non fu gia men forte Alcide" I had some rays of hopes that she could continue with her gorgeous tone, but even in that aria her voice was becoming perilously infirm.
As the show proceeds, the demands of the role took the better of her and the production itself contributed to her looking and sounding totally ridiculous. When I saw her marching like an idiot in "Fammi Combattere", I felt really sorry for the singer to being subjected to such debasement. I truly believe that for an artist being forced into the image of such utter lunacy "envisioned" by the stage director is a disaster affecting her singing. Perhaps she would be better if the acting demanded was less devastating to the role.
On the other hand, I think extraordinary contraltos as Ewa Podles or Stephanie Blythe could all sing this part with glory; why Zurich opted for Mijanovich is a mystery. Perhaps they wanted to mock this opera inside out? Perhaps Handel's laurels deeply disturb somebody who was in charge?
Next, Angelica (Martina Jankova) is the worst I have ever heard in this role. The standard set by Arleen Auger in this role Handel - Orlando / Bowman, Auger, Kirkby, Robbin, Thomas, AAM, Hogwoodis a definite obstacle to enjoying someone's wobbling with vibrato as wide as English channel. Jancova voice is too thin and bland for the role. The stage direction did not help this singer, either - one of the most magnificent arias of the whole Handel's ouevre "Ritornava al suo bel viso" was decimated by a bizarre phone talking action; why??? The music illuminates the wondrous moment when Angelica falls in love from the first sight with the beautiful Medoro; but obviously that was deemed too naïve and sentimental for the stage director. So she is turned into some empty-headed artificially-mannered mannequin talking on the phone. The whole idea of a sincere feeling free from plotting, perversity or disease seemed to offend the producers. But it did not help to save the show.
Martina Jankova was quite junky and the first worst, in my opinion, even worse than Mijanovic on the role suitability scale. Dorinda (Christina Clark) suffers from excessive treble, and only Zoroastro (Konstantin Wolff) was good enough, but the opera was not written for the secondary roles.
Medoro (Katharina Peetz) was passable but not thrilling. It was also tremendously distracting to watch Medoro here, groomed as Alain Delon and playing a vicious heartless womanizer. The final trio of the First Act, one of the finest Handel ever wrote "Consolati, o bella" is turned into a vicious caricature on itself, and even the threesome looks pathetic, plus badly sung (which by then becoming a signature of this production).
The famous mad scene "Ah! Stigie larve" has been totally lost; it was not accentuated by the orchestra, which continued to play like it was a band on a fair weekend day in a local park; and Mijanovic could not surmount it vocally; brandishing an axe did not help. Besides, where would a patient in a ward get an axe? Ouch, this show was a collection of incongruities and stupidities.
All those miserable "inventions" just contributed to the overall ruin of the opera, further destroying every character of the story and the meaning of them and their relationship. This was especially sad about Orlando, an opera based on a literary work that combined sophistication, wisdom and satire. Yes, the author depicts the hero in a ironic light, mocking his passion, but juxtaposing it against his true obsession with possessing Angelica. I personally would not call it love, but he was certainly infatuated with her; that allowed to smile at the strength of his devotion. But all such subtleties were destroyed in this production - if Orlando is an asylum patient, how can his irrationality be mocked??? If Medoro is just a cruel seducer and not a weak sensuous beau, while Angelica is a mannerist air-head, how can we believe in their love and bonding? The whole story makes no sense with liberties taken by the direction.
Finally, the orchestra sounded dull and wan; my old suspicion that William Christie is a true opportunist who just can't miss a chance to grab a production is now a conviction. He had conducted a very good recording of Orlando Orlando, and as a true musician he should not have lowered his standards for a live performance. Obviously he was hearing at rehearsals and before everything I was hearing from the final DVD, and yet he allowed such a production to surface. It is a disgrace.
Alas, this is the only DVD of this opera available. I love this opera madly; I fell in love with it when listening to Christopher Hogwood's recording with James Bowman, Arleen Auger and Emma Kirkby. I traveled to see the opera in Halle and Paris in 2010 and finally to Brussels in May this year. In Brussels Rene Jacobs was conducting and Bejun Mehta sang Orlando. I was surprised that Mehta did not do as well as last year in Harnoncourt's Rodelinda in Vienna. It only highlighted to me the huge differences between the roles of Orlando and Bertarido, and huge difficulties of the Orlando's score. It appears that Orlando cannot be sung only by a head voice of a countertenor; Mehta got laudably tired, although overall it was a much better interpretation than this Zurich coo-coo poo. Mijanovich voice is far more beautiful that Mehta's, so I expected a lot... Another good thing about Brussels was a great Angelica - Sophie Karthäuser, with Medoro - Kristina Hammarström, Dorinda - Sunhae Im and Zoroastro the same Konstantin Wolff. I supply a link in Comments section.
And yes, in Halle, Handel's motherland and a German-speaking realm as Zurich, it was a similarly atrocious production, though more vulgar than this Zurich. Paris with Sonia Prina was beautiful, the whole mise-en-scene and the ballet was absolutely stunning, but Sonia Prina was not always up to the demands of the role, her voice was unsteady at times and not in total control. One is reminded again that singing a live opera is quite different from making a recording. Yet overall Paris 2010 Orlando was a better production than this Zurich. Why did they not issue a DVD of Paris performance? Or Brussels? Many rhetorical questions to ask, but at the end we are left with a poo. There is really no single redeeming quality of this production.
The public in the DVD applauds like crazy; I wish I were there and then they would hear my hearty honest big BOO!!!
A cuckoo poo deserves a good boo!!!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A Brilliant Production of One of Handel's Finest OperasJuly 25 2010
Brian J Hay
- Published on Amazon.com
This production is fabulous.
Musically, it's beyond reproach. William Christie takes the score at a faster tempo than he did when he recorded the piece with Les Arts Florissants back in 1996, but, as was the case then, everything he's done serves the music beautifully. If anything, the differences only illustrate the fact that more than one approach can be valid. The playing of The Orchestra "La Scintilla" of the Zurich Opera is impeccable and inspired. Numbers like "Non fu giá men forte Alcide" with its horn obligato bristle with emotional fire. Gentle phrasings such as the lovely string passage that opens the second act express deep feeling without falling into excessive sentimentality. The accompaniment to "Cielo! Se tu il consent" never loses or overplays the darkness that implies the beginnings of Orlando's descent into madness. These are just a few examples.
Marijana Mijanovi' is spectacular in the role of the tormented 'Orlando'. Her singing is very strong through the upper and lower areas of her range and her shadings are very expressive. Her acting is stellar. She's a beautiful woman but her gestures and body language make her very convincing as a man. Her portrayal of Orlando's madness is chilling. Martina Janková is radiant as the lovely but conflicted 'Anjelica'. She uses a lot of vibrato to express the dramatic scope of the music but there's a quality of crystalline clarity at the root of her singing that lays a solid foundation for every note that passes her lips. As an actress (in this part anyway) she conveys seductive qualities that make it easy for the viewer to see why she's at the centre of focus for all the male characters. (They'd be dead if they didn't at least pay attention).
Christina Clark's voice is well suited to 'Bel Canto' singing (to sing beautifully in Italian). Her phrasings are exquisite. She has excellent clarity throughout her range and excellent control over her vibrato. Her acting is wonderful. She captures 'Dorinda's' sweet nature and the harshness of her situation without becoming an object of pity. The mezzo tones of Katharina Peetz are rich and filled with shadings. Her low end is absolutely lovely. Her portrayal of 'Medoro' as a rake of questionable integrity but no malice is excellent. When her character's dilemma is clarified she holds the viewers' understanding if not all of their sympathy. Konstantin Wolff has the least to do but his presence is felt throughout the opera. His portrayal of 'Zaroastro' as the manipulative and coldly malevolent 'creator' of heroes is, in its way, even more chilling than the madness that strikes 'Orlando'; unlike 'Orlando' he knows what he's doing. This is a tribute to both Wolff's ability as an actor and the work of the Director, Jens-Daniel Herzog.
Herzog does a tremendous job of keeping the story moving briskly. His sense of placing and movement is impeccable. He makes full use of both the cast and the music to flesh out the production. The set created by Mathis Neidhardt is a brilliant piece of work. It's less austere than what would be expected of a sanitarium but that never distracts from the action. There's plenty of room for the performers to move and enough space to allow different things to be shown simultaneously. The lighting design set in place by Jürgen Hoffman leads the eye to the appropriate focal points beautifully. The cinematography applied to the video shoot is very good as well. (TV) Directors Felix and Maud Breisach placement of the cameras do as much to keep the flow of the narrative moving on video as the work of the stage crew did during the performance(s) themselves.
The sound isn't quite what it could be. DTS 5.1 couldn't be tested because my system (pretty good conventional stereo) doesn't support it. The sound on the PCM track doesn't centre around the television as well as it should. The dynamic range and frequency separation on that track could be better as well. The Dolby 5.1 track centres properly and has better frequency separation but still falls short of what's been done on other releases. The mix is questionable at times. Much of Katharina Peetz' work on "Consolati o bella" is buried. With her pitch and volume that wouldn't have been the case on stage. These comments shouldn't be misconstrued though. The sound is good. But neither the Dolby or PCM tracks here are as good as the PCM track on the EuroArts edition of 'Persée or anything I've heard from Opus Arte.
The main menu is flawed as well. There are settings for languages and audio but none for the individual chapters. The discs are divided into chapters but having a table of contents would have been nice. This listing does show up on an optional side menu on Apple's DVD Player application however. Go Figure.
Against the whole these complaints are minor ones. The execution of this production is brilliant. It is one of the most engaging pieces I've seen on video. It gets the highest recommendation.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Classic Champagne CocktailMarch 15 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
The analogy was suggested by the golden hues of the stage--and by the bubbly blend of strength and sophistication in Handel's score. In purely musical terms, the performance is excellent. I like Christie's architectural approach to Handel: the clean lines matched with exuberant ornamentation. Marijana Mijanovic is stupendous in the title role: not just her spectacular vocal powers but equally her lithe elegant presence on the stage. In the final scene, she looks uncannily like young Ludwig from Visconti's sumptuous almost-masterpiece. It left me breathless.
The staging is uneven. Setting Orlando in a vaguely Freudian fin de siècle atmosphere is a percipient idea that yields some brilliant moments--the end of Act Two being a prime example. Regrettably, the insight is not sustained in all scenes. The character of Dorinda is left to an afterthought--profoundly unfair to the music and to Christina Clark who bravely does her best in impossible circumstances. Granted, the libretto is clumsy, but the score offers plenty of richness and depth. The attempts at humour tend to be bawdy and remain jarringly at odds with the music. I wish that the stage director had stayed with his central concept of Belle Epoque refinement and not lapsed into slapstick. Yet I cannot give the production anything but my highest recommendation. As a Classic Champagne Cocktail, it overdoes the sugar and perhaps somewhat neglects the cognac, but it still makes for some heady unforgettable evenings.