Feeling the love for ‘Orlando’
LENOX - The revival of Handel’s operas waited until the modern era. “Orlando,’’ for instance, superbly performed by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and conductor Nicholas McGegan at Tanglewood on Tuesday night, first reached these shores only in 1971. Perhaps that’s because seemingly modern anxieties over vulnerability and folly were what Handel was most keen to redeem.
In “Orlando,’’ that most vulnerable and foolish of emotions - irrational lovesickness - is bestowed with flamboyant glory. As the mainstay of Charlemagne’s army, Orlando has abandoned the battlefield for pining over the princess Angelica; but she betroths herself to the prince Medoro, much to the dismay of Dorinda, the shepherdess, who had her own designs on him.
The performance played the resulting complications more as romantic comedy than heroic drama (though the second act did cast some ravishing shadows). Then again, the opera itself prefers to linger over its bittersweet moods, in a profusion of orchestral and vocal decoration.
The San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque uses period-accurate instruments (and were arranged on the Ozawa Hall stage in an historically authentic closed oval), but their playing laced precision with a heady dose of abandon. Triple rhythms swung hard; phrases were decorated with swells and dynamic swoops in swooning abundance. McGegan presided with genial vigor, encouraging and enjoying the extravagance.
Countertenor Clint van der Linde took time to warm up as Orlando, both vocally and dramatically (almost lackadaisical at the opening, he weighed love and martial duty with the mien of a man choosing a mutual fund) but energized in the second act. His horn-like voice bloomed, his passagework coursed in rolling tantrums. Dominique Labelle was a confident Angelica, her steely soprano especially good in sharp-cut coloratura, deploying feminine wiles with the haughty grace of a player enamored of her own skill at the game.
Mezzo-soprano Diana Moore was a forthright Medoro, all decisive loyalty, with an appropriately resolute dark-glass voice. Soprano Yulia Van Doren was bubbly as Dorinda, with sighing portamento and effervescent ornaments, teasing her way through the Italian. As Zoroastro, the magician who herds the plot toward its resolution, bass Wolf Matthias Friedrich seized rather than teased, rolling syllables in his mouth like candy, his bracing sound combined with a vaudevillian’s plasticity of expression.
The plot’s resolution isn’t quite anti-climactic - Handel cranks out a fine final chorus - but does seem a bit perfunctory. The opera’s best music - the immoderately lovely trio that ends Act I, as Angelica and Medoro fail to console Dorinda, for instance - fairly savors heartbreak. “Love is like a gust of wind, spinning the head,’’ Dorinda sings. Handel found more humanity being tossed in the breeze than landing on solid ground.
Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.