Sacramento Opera’s 30th season gets underway this month with themes of love and madness in George Frideric Handel’s “Orlando” on Nov. 19 and 21.
The opera’s theme is perfect in keeping with Sac Opera’s 2010–11 theme of “Love Makes You Crazy.” The title character, Orlando, is a great soldier in the Emperor Charlemagne’s army. Orlando (“Roland”) falls in love with the pagan princess, Angelica, the Queen of Cathay. He is torn between conflicting desires for “love and glory.”
Angelica, on her part, is in love with an African prince, Medoro.
Orlando can’t handle any of this. His obsession with the beautiful princess and his dreams of glory drive him to madness. He is prevented from wreaking havoc, however, by the magician Zoroastro, who eventually returns his sanity to him.
Considered to be one of Handel’s “most daring and virtuosic operas,” this work in three acts was written in 1731 and was first performed in 1732 at the King’s Theatre in London on January 27, 1733. After ten performances, (due to “artistic differences” between the composer and the lead singer), it languished until being revived at the Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon on May 6, 1959.
This production will be Sacramento Opera’s first foray into the Baroque repertoire.
“Orlando” is considered a “virtuosic opera” because of the degree of talent required to perform it.
“Performers need not only have great flexibility and agility in their voices to execute amazing amounts of notes that fly by at blinding speed, but also the ability to improvise,” said Timm Rolek, artistic director and conductor of Sacramento Opera.
This is not surprising, as “Orlando” was written for one of the famous castrati of the era, Sensino.
A castrato is a man with a singing voice equivalent to that of a soprano, mezzo-soprano or contralto voice, produced by castrating a young boy before puberty. This process, outlawed in Italy by 1870, resulted in larger rib cages with child-sized vocal chords.
With training, a castrato’s voice was extraordinarily flexible and quite different. A castrato who could really “belt it out” quickly rose to the 18th century equivalent of one of today’s super rock stars. Today, the high-range roles written for the castrati are sung by countertenors.
“Mutilating young men in the name of art is a practice that I am glad ended long ago,” Rolek said. “Now when composers look for the sound of a prepubescent male voice, they either write for low voiced women dressed as boys, or for boys. The problem with the later is that there is not a lot of volume or length of musical phrase with youngsters, so in most cases composers will opt for low-voiced women.”
An alternative to the two aforementioned choices is to elicit the singing skills of a countertenor — a male singer capable of hitting higher notes through a combination of chest voice and falsetto singing. Performing the role of Orlando will be countertenor Randall Scotting, who makes his debut with Sacramento Opera in this performance. He is known for his commanding stage presence, rich voice and innate musicality. He performed the part of Orlando with the Liszt Frenc Orchestra in Budapest last season.
Also making their debuts with Sac Opera this season are Celine Ricci, lyric coloratura soprano (as Angelica) and Diana Tash, mezzo soprano (as Medoro). Antoni Mendezona, coloratura soprano (as Dorinda, a shepherdess) and Dean Elzinga, bass baritone (as Zoroastro) round out the cast. Frank Kuhn is the stage director.
“Randall and Celine are internationally known Baroque opera specialists, and Diana, Antoni, and Dean are all exceptional singing actors,” Rolek said.
The music, composed by one of the masters of the age, will be well worth experiencing, according to Rolek.
“Handel at his essence is a theatrical composer, while Bach (born the same year) is essentially a church composer,” he said. “Music from both of these men still speaks to us today through their deceptive simplicity.”
Because the tale of Orlando is a timeless one, the stage setting will have a mythical tone, instead of being locked into one fixed time and place. The opera is about two hours and forty-five minutes with one intermission. This Sacramento Opera premiere is sung in Italian with projected English supertitles.
“Orlando” will be performed at the Sacramento Community Center Theater, located at 1301 L St. in Sacramento on Friday, Nov. 19, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 21, at 2 p.m. Single ticket prices range from $18 to $108 each. Season tickets are now on sale and offer a 20 percent discount off the single ticket price. For tickets call (916) 808-5181 or visit tickets.com. For more information visit sacopera.org.
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