- Performer: Patricia Bardon, Rosemary Joshua, Hilary Summers, Rosa Mannion, Harry van der Kamp, et al.
- Orchestra: Les Arts Florissants
- Conductor: William Christie
- Composer: George Frideric Handel
- Audio CD (October 1, 1996)
- SPARS Code: DDD
- Number of Discs: 3
- Label: Alliance
- ASIN: B000005E4L
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #223,822 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
Handel / Orlando
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Orlando has one of those quintessentially goofy Baroque opera plots, but it is partially sustained, at least, by some of Handel's most beautiful arias. Mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon as Orlando sings well enough in a technical sense, but is on the dull side dramatically. The rest of the cast is more interesting, particularly Harry van der Kamp as the magician Zoroastro, and the sweet-voiced Rosa Mannion as Dorinda. It's really William Christie's show, of course, and his conducting of his talented ensemble is one of the best things about this recording. --Sarah Bryan Miller
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Nonsensical though it may be, this kind of stagy drama with its story-book characters and its over-the-top situations has a kind of consistency and integrity of its own. It quite obviously lends itself to operatic treatment, this was the high watermark of the style, and the composer after all is Handel. A lot is lost from the lack of stage-effects (such as mountains being made to disappear at the wave of Zoroaster's wand), and listeners to it in sound alone need a clear idea of what style of interpretation they think most appropriate. Demureness in the performing style would be ridiculous, surely, the issue is more a matter of how much hyperbole one wants. Act II ends with Orlando's mad scene and his real or imaginary visions of the underworld, and some listeners will want more staginess than we find here. Myself, I like it well enough as Patricia Bardon and William Christie choose to do it. Handel whips up the frenzy towards the end, but the earlier sequence is largely quiet and bewildered, and the purely musical effects, such as the use of 5/8 metre (for the first time in musical history, I believe) do the job without any hamming it up by the performers. In general, I'd say, when we're in sound alone it's best to err on the side of the musical rather than on the side of the over-dramatic, and it's the sheer distinction of the musicianship that leads me to be as enthusiastic about this Orlando as I am. The singing is simply superb, both in technique and in the beauty of the vocal tone from all five participants. In particular I should draw attention to the trio that ends Act I, which to my ears is a thing worthy to stand with the trio in Rosenkavalier itself.
The direction and the casting get top marks from me as well. One of my reasons for choosing this set of Orlando in preference to its formidable rival in the catalogues is simply that I already own plenty of the latters' work. Rather than have all my meals prepared by the same chefs I decided to take a chance, and I don't feel I've gone wrong. On the face of it, this is not one of Handel's more spectacular scores, and there is no fancy orchestration. On the other hand William Christie has a superb ability to put across the adroitness, fluency and resourcefulness of the composer's style that overawed Haydn in the later phase of his own great career, and that had Beethoven pronouncing Handel the greatest composer who ever lived. There is a real magician at work here, and it is not Zoroaster. In respect of the casting, I myself tend to be more at home with women altos rather than countertenors however eminent, and so this issue suits me from that angle too. The four women's voices are beautifully contrasted, they combine superbly in the wonderful trio at the end of the first act, and Harry van der Kamp's magnificent bass sets the final seal on it for me.
The recorded quality seems just fine to me, the orchestral playing is a model of comprehension of the musical idiom, and even the secco recitatives are done with real grace, avoiding the impression that harpsichords so often give of being bird-cages played with toasting-forks. There is a multilingual liner, with the English version of the libretto interestingly provided by Samuel Humphreys, himself one of Handel's oratorio librettists. The background essay is quite good and helpful in addition.
As I have said, there is real magic here, even without any signs and wonders in the visible staging. A strong contender, whatever the competition.
However, Christie's recording is very, very pretty and stylish. He has some fabulous singers, like Rosa Mannion and Rosemary Joshua, two of the most beautiful young women and beautiful voices in the field of Baroque music. Rosemary Joshua has recently revisited her role of Angelica in a production with David Daniels in the title role. I only hope that production makes it to DVD.
People who don't like countertenors will prefer Les Arts Florissants' very "pretty" recording of Orlando, but know that the Hogwood recording of this work with the great James Bowman in the title role is vastly superior, drama-wise. In the mad scene, Ms Bardon seems merely distracted, in contrast with Mr. Bowman, who seems genuinely out on the edge.
The orchestras, on period instruments in both recordings, are utterly fabulous and colourful.