Bejun Mehta stars in Pierre Audi's inspired interpretation of Handel's masterpiece

Orlando

George Frideric Handel, De Munt, Brussel

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Orlando is considered one of Handel’s most original and expansive operas. It’s a character study with a relatively small cast but a huge impact. The knight Orlando is head over heels in love with the princess Angelica. However, she loves the African prince Medoro. Orlando’s jealousy drives him to madness; only the magician Zoroastro can restore his sanity.
Director Pierre Audi has lent a surprising twist to the story, portraying Orlando as a pyromaniac firefighter. Audi’s staging perfectly matches the discerning, authentic performance practice by baroque expert René Jacobs and the brilliant musicianship of the Flemish ensemble B’Rock. The cast is led by the most popular countertenor of the moment, Bejun Mehta.

Programme Icoon

Background information

The famous warrior Orlando is head over heels in love with the pagan princess Angelica, who is in turn in love with an African prince. The story of their love triangle is the departure point for George Frideric Handel's opera Orlando, which was first performed in London in 1733. The hopeless situation drives Orlando to madness; only the magician Zoroastro can restore his sanity. This new production by the departing director of the Holland Festival and director of the National Opera Pierre Audi premiered in April 2012 at La Monnaie in Brussels and will have its Dutch premiere at the Holland Festival. The musical direction is in the accomplished hands of Handel and baroque expert René Jacobs, conducting the young baroque orchestra B’Rock.
Just as with his operas Alcina and Ariodante, Handel found his subject matter for Orlando in Ludovico Ariosto's 16th century epic Orlando furioso, about the famous warrior in Charlemagne's army of paladins. Although Handel wrote this 'opera in seria in tre atti' for a small cast of five soloists at the height of his career, the work only had limited success in the 18th century. However, since its rediscovery in the 20th century it has grown to become one of Handel's most popular operas, in a large part due to the hallucinatory madness scene.

As Handel has composed an extensive repertoire for the high male voice range, he has always been a major influence on the famous countertenor René Jacobs, who is now chiefly known as a director. In keeping with the usual practice in Handel's time of having these roles for the high male voice sung by castrates, the splendid lead role in Orlando was also intended for this type of voice, Handel writing it for the famous alto castrate Senesino. These days the role is often performed by a mezzo-soprano. This production by Audi and Jacobs sees Bejun Mehta, one of Jacobs' favourite singers, starring in the lead role. Mehta has performed the role before to great acclaim in other productions, including at London's Royal Opera House. In a recent interview, Pierre Audi has also said that Mehta is the best singer for this demanding role.

In an interview for La Monnaie in Brussels, Jacobs explains how the story of Orlando puts the conventions of opera seria under pressure, as the standard da capo aria is a distinctly rational form, which doesn't suit a character who is losing his mind. ‘In the madness scene at the end of the second act, this aria form bursts at the seams, subsequently turning into a succession of accompagnato parts and arioso parts. Similar madness scenes can be found in Vivaldi and Steffani, but Handel's madness scene is deservedly the most famous of them all.’ An accompagnato recitative is a recitative which is accompanied by the whole orchestra, not only by the basso continuo. Handel's frequent use of the form was, according to Jacobs, breaking new ground at the time.


Unlike his other operas, the narrative in Handel's Orlando is rather uneventful. Handel is more interested in the psychological aspect of his protagonist, turning him into a compelling character; difficult to sing, but fascinating to play. In an interview with La Monnaie, director Pierre Audi labelled it a psychological, even philosophical and mythical opera venturing beyond the anecdotal and probing deeper ground. In his contemporary scenic interpretation he has emphatically focused on dramatising the magic in the opera.
The set is conceived as a closed-off space, difficult to access and evoking a feeling of imprisonment. Fire is the dominating element in Audi's spectacular vision – the fire of desire and the fire of destruction. Each of the three acts have their own landscape, but with the same house at the centre of attention, be it in a different form for each act. The sequence of these different forms seems to be in reverse chronology, changing from a house which is destroyed by fire into a Gothic landscape, which according to Audi represents Orlando's nightmare, and finally a house which has been rebuilt, as a symbol of hope. The use of video in this production represents a new element in Audi's theatre language.

Biographies

George Frideric Handel (in German Georg Friederich Händel, 1685-1759) is, alongside Johann Sebastian Bach, regarded as one of the greatest baroque composers in history. Handel composed more than 600 works, many of which are still being performed.
In 1728 Handel and Johann Jacob Heidegger founded the New Royal Academy of Music in London, a new opera company replacing the old Royal Academy of Music, which had gone bankrupt, and satisfying the London audience's appetite for Italian opera. By then, Handel had been living in London for sixteen years and had the year before settled as a naturalised British subject. At the time, he was the undisputed number one composer in the British capital. Composing Orlando for the fourth season of the New Royal Academy of Music, the opera preiered at the King's Theatre on 27 January 1733, complete with new costumes and sets, which was quite remarkable at a time when opera costumes and sets were constantly re-used. Amazing scenic effects were all the rage then and were though to be vital to a magical opera with many transformations such as Orlando. Handel had the use of an excellent cast for Orlando, starring the castrate Senesino as Orlando (the last principal role Handel wrote for him), Anna Strada del Pò as Angelica, Francesca Bertolli as Medoro, Celeste Gismondi as Dorinda and the deep bass Antonio Montagnana in the role of the magician Zoroastro.
The text was adapted from an older libretto by Carlo Sigismondo Capece, which was based on Ludovico Ariosto's sixteenth century text Orlando furioso, which had been put to music before by Domenico Scarlatti. Incorporating the content of Aristo's text into three acts, Handel created a psychological character study centering on delusional love, one of the most original and rich operas in his large body of works.

 

René Jacobs started his musical education as a choir boy at the cathedral of his city of birth Ghent. Throughout his school years and his time at university studying classical philology, he was active as a singer. Getting to know Alfred Deller, Gustav Leonhardt and the Kuijken brothers Sigiswald and Wieland encouraged him to specialise as a countertenor, soon growing to become one of the leading countertenors of his time. Passionate about the extensive but relatively little known repertoire of 17th century vocal chamber music, he established the Concerto Vocale in 1977. Surrounding himself with leading musicians such as William Christie, Konrad Junghänel and Wieland Kuijken, he produced an impressive collection of recordings, introducing a great number of works and composers to the wider public. The 1983 production of Orontea (Cesti) at the Innsbrucker Festwochen marked Jacobs' debut as a conductor of opera, subsequently directing works by Monteverdi, Cavali, Handel, Gluck, Mozart and Rossini on the world's most prestigious stages. In the meantime he continued to add unknown scores to the popular opera repertoire, including Graun's Cleopatra e Cesare and Cavalli's Eliogabalo. Jacobs has received an honorary doctorate from the university of Ghent; his discography includes some 250 titles, many of which received international music awards. From 1997 until 2009 he was artistic director of the Innsbrucker Festwochen. Since 1992 he has been guest conductor at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin. From 2007 he has collaborated closely with the Theater an der Wien.

 

Pierre Audi was born in 1957 in Beirut and grew up in Beirut and Paris. He studied history in Oxford and founded the Almeida Theatre in London in 1979. Since 1988, he is the artistic director of Dutch National Opera. In March 2004, he succeeded Ivo van Hove as artistic director of the Holland Festival, in which he also regularly directs productions himself. As a director, he has worked with visual artists such as Karel Appel, Georg Baselitz, Anish Kapoor, Herzog & de Meuron, Jannis Kounellis and Jonathan Meese.
He directed opera at Salzburger Festspiele, Theater an der Wien, Bavarian State Opera in Munich, La Monnaie in Brussels, Metropolitan Opera, New York, Opéra national de Paris and Los Angeles Opera. In addition he directed plays by Shakespeare, Racine, Strindberg and Sophocles (Toneelgroep Amsterdam and Zuidelijk Toneel).
In 2001, Audi made his debut as a film director with two Canticles by Benjamin Britten. Audi received the Leslie Boosey Award, the bmw Music Theatre Prize, the Dutch Critics’ Award and the Prince Bernhard Culture Fund Theatre. From the Friends of Dutch National Opera, he received the Prix d’Amis and in Drottningholm he was awarded a medal of honour for his Handel productions. Audi has been decorated Knight of the Order of the Dutch Lion and Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. In 2009, he received the first Johannes Vermeer Price for his achievements as a director and music theatre innovator.
Recent productions are Verdi’s Attila (Metropolitan Opera), La tragedia d’Orfeo (i.c.w. Opera Studio Nederland), Orlando furioso (Théâtre des Champs Élysées Parijs, in Nice en Nancy), the world premieres of Henzes Gisela! (Ruhrtriennale), Rihms Dionysos (Salzburger Festspiele, Staatsoper Berlin), Orlando (La Monnaie, Brussels), Médée (Théâtre des Champs Élysées Parijs, Lille), Die Eroberung von Mexico (Teatro Real Madrid), and Der Ring des Nibelungen (DNO).
Future productions are Thebans (English National Opera), Arnold Schönbergs Gurrelieder (DNO) and the reprise of Lohengrin (DNO).

 

The American countertenor Bejun Mehta performs leading roles at the most prestigious festivals and stages in the world, including Covent Garden, Bayerische Staatsoper, Opéra National de Paris, Théâtre du Châtelet, Theater an der Wien, Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Dutch National Opera, Teatro Real in Madrid, the Metropolitan Opera, the operas of Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, the festivals of Aix-en-Provence and Verbier and the BBC Proms. Mehta also performs at various venues with pianist Julius Drake, presenting a repertoire which ranges from baroque to contemporary music. For his role as Orlando at Covent Garden, Mehta was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award. For the Harmonia Mundi imprint, he released the album Ombra Cara, a selection of Handel arias with the Freiburger Barockorchester led by René Jacobs, which received the ECHO Klassik 2011 Award in the category 'opera recording of the year'. Mehta also contributed to the acclaimed recording of Handel's Agrippina under the baton of Jacobs and he has released a solo-album of romantic British songs Down by the Salley Gardens.
In the autumn of 2013 he released Che Puro Ciel, a CD with classic arias with the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. Highlights of last season were his contribution to George Benjamin's Written on Skin and a Handel programme with the Freiburger Barockorchester. His 2013/2014 agenda includes performances of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, a series of concerts with the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin and engagements as a conductor with the Belgian baroque ensemble B’Rock.

 

The bass-baritone Konstantin Wolff studied wih Donald Litakert at the Musikhochschule in Karlsruhe. In 2004 he won the Mendelssohn Competition in Berlin, which earned him a scholarship from the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes (Study fund of the German people). In 2005, he made his opera debut at the Opéra de Lyon as Mercurio (L’incoronazione di Poppea, Monteverdi) under the direction of William Christie. Since, the emphasis in his repertoire has shifted towards the music of Handel and Mozart, having performed various opera roles by these two composers. His concert repertoire includes the major oratorios by Handel and Bach, Haydn's Die Schöpfung, Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and the requiems of Mozart, Brahms, Dvorák, Fauré and Hindemith. Konstantin Wolff has regularly worked with leading baroque ensembles, including Concerto Köln, the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Les Arts Florissants and Les Musiciens du Louvre. He has also perfomed with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, the Mozarteumorchester Salzburg and the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées. He has sung under the direction of conductors including Nikolaus Harnoncourt, René Jacobs, Jérémie Rohrer, Claudio Abbado, Simon Rattle, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Marc Minkowsi, Teodor Currentzis, Riccardo Chailly, Manfred Honeck, Helmuth Rilling and Ton Koopman. He has worked with a wide range of directors, including Pierre Audi, Jens Daniel Herzog and Philipp Himmelmann. Wolff has given many recitals, in Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria. This season he will perform at the Salzburg Festival in Handel's Alexander's Feast, or The Power of Musick (in Mozart's orchestration) conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. Wolff's recordings have been published extensively on CD and DVD.

 

The Swedish mezzo-soprano Kristina Hammarström has been a regular guest at the major international stages and festivals, including the Festival of Aix-en-Provence, the Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik and the Drottningholm Festival in Stockholm. Her roles include Charlotte (Massenets Werther), Octavian (Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier), Penelope and Minerva (Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria), Diana (Cavalli’s La Calisto) as well as the Mozart roles Cherubino (Le nozze di Figaro), Idamante (Idomeneo), Farnace (Mitridate) and the lead role in Ascanio in Alba. She has sung Irene and Andronico in Handel's Tamerlano, Nerone in Agrippina, Cornelia and the title role in Giulio Cesare in Egitto and the title role in Oreste.
Kristina Hammarström has worked with renowned conductors such as Marin Alsop, Herbert Blomstedt, Frans Brüggen, William Christie, Jesús López Cobos, Alan Curtis, Ottavio Dantone, Thomas Dausgaard, Adam Fischer, Alan Gilbert, Christopher Hogwood and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. She has performed with leading orchestras such as the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées and the Gothenborg Symphony Orchestra. As a concert singer she has performed at various venues in Europe and Asia. Her repertoire includes Berlioz’ Les nuits d'été, Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, the Rückertlieder and the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Elgar's Sea pictures and a great many masses and oratorios. Hammarström's discography includes recordings of Handel's Orlando with René Jacobs, the title role in Handel's Giulio Cesare and the role of Giulia in his Alessandro Severo, with George Petrou, a number of Mozart operas under the musical direction of Adam Fischer, Bach's Weihnachtsoratorium with Jan Willem de Vriend and Mozart's Requiem with Manfred Honeck. Hammarström has also been published on a great many DVD recordings.

 

Soprano Lenneke Ruiten studied Singing with Meinard Kraak in The Hague and subsequently at the Bavarian Theatre Academy in Munich. She has won various prizes at the International Vocal Competition in 's Hertogenbosch. In opera, Ruiten has portrayed roles by Mozart, Gluck, Mussorgsky, Monteverdi and others. She has performed at De Nederlandse Opera, the Festival de Beaune, the Salzburger Festspiele, the Baden-Baden Festival, the Aldeburgh Festival and the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival. On the concert stage, she has worked with many internationally acclaimed ensembles, conducted by, amongst others, Ton Koopman, Frans Brüggen, Alessandro de Marchi, Helmuth Rilling, John Eliot Gardiner, Yakov Kreizberg, Christian Thielemann Emmanuelle Haïm and Marc Minkowski. Ruiten has recorded various CDs. Her CD with Mozart arias was conducted by Ed Spanjaard. With pianists Finghin Collins, Thom Janssen and Rudolf Jansen, Ruiten has performed recitals in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Ireland and the United States.

At the Opéra La Monnaie in Bruxelles Lenneke Ruiten had an outstanding success as „Orphélie“ in Thomas’ Hamlet (Marc Minkowski / Olivier Py).  At the Théâtre de Champs Elysées, Paris and in Baden Baden she sang a Monteverdi Gala with Magdalena Kozéna and Rolando Villazon under Emanuelle Haïm and in spring 2014 she recorded Bach’s St. John’s Passion under Marc Minkowski with concerts in Francfort, Lyon and Grenoble.Her performance in Handel's Orlando will be her first collaboration with the conductor René Jacobs.

Lenneke Ruiten is invited to sing the role of Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Salzburg festival, Henze’s Floß der Medusa with the NTR Amsterdam.  During the 2014/15 season, Lenneke Ruiten will sing at the Stuttgart State Theatre „Zerbinetta“ in Ariadne auf Naxos, „La follie“ in Rameau’s  Platée and „Sophie“ in Rosenkavalier and for 2015 her debut at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan is planned, singing Giunia in Mozart's Lucio Silla

 

Born in South-Korea, soprano Sunahe Im studied Singing in the capital Seoul, then moved to Germany to study with Roland Hermann at the Musikhochschule in Karlsruhe. Since then she has sung under the musical direction of renowned conductors, such as Giovanni Antonini, Fabio Biondi, Herbert Blomstedt, Frans Brüggen, Sylvain Cambreling, Riccardo Chailly, William Christie, Iván Fischer, Thomas Hengelbrock, Philippe Herreweghe, Christopher Hogwood, Manfred Honeck, René Jacobs, Marek Janowski, Ton Koopman, Kent Nagano and Lothar Zagrosek. She has been booked to perform at major venues, including the Kölner Philharmonie, Salle Pleyel in Paris, the Wiener Musikverein, the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussel and Carnegie Hall in New York. Im's repertoire includes works by Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Gluck, Rameau, Charpentier, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Mahler and Mendelssohn. She has sung in operas by Handel, Gluck, Mozart, Poulenc and others, at major opera houses, including the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, the Oper Frankfurt, the Theater an der Wien, the Opéra National de Paris and La Monnaie in Brussels. Sunhae Im was invited to perform at renowned festivals such as the Edinburgh International Festival, the Mostly Mozart Festival and the Salzburger Festspiele. She has worked with leading orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Münchner Philharmoniker; and she has a close working relationship with the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin and the Freiburger Barockorchester. Sunhae Im has contributed to various award winning recordings, including Fauré's Requiem, Mahler's Fourth Symphony, Handel's Agrippina, various Mozart recordings, Haydn's Die Schöpfung and the Hohe Messe by Bach.

Credits

music
George Frideric Handel
libretto
anonymous after Carlo Sigismondo Capeces L’Orlando (1711) after Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso (1516/1532)
musical direction
René Jacobs
direction
Pierre Audi
set & costumes
Christof Hetzer
lightning
Jean Kalman
video
Michael Saxer
creation surtitles
Dienst Dramaturgie van de Munt
cast
Bejun Mehta (Orlando)
Lenneke Ruiten (Angelica)
Kristina Hammarström (Medoro)
Sunhae Im (Dorinda)
Konstantin Wolff (Zoroastro)
orchestra
Baroque Orchestra B'Rock
production
De Munt / La Monnaie
this production has been made possible with the additional support by
The Brook Foundation

'Orlando is another triumph for De Munt. The muted, sophisticated staging provides ample space for Handel's … music.

De Standaard

This performance was made possible with support by