HARRY Fehr’s Welsh National Opera production of Handel’s Orlando brought American counter-tenor Lawrence Zazzo to Bristol, demonstating why he is regarded as one of the very best singers of his generation.
This demanding role calls for vocal pyrotechnics, and along with the flexibility and speed, a huge range and sensitivity balanced with attack. All these Mr Zazzo has in spades.
It’s an odd production, although audiences should be used to updated and director-driven Handelian interpretation.
The first act is set in a perfectly observed Art Deco hospital, where the roots of the drama are exposed. Heroic airman(?) Orlando, in treatment for post-traumatic stress, is in love with Angelica, but she has fallen for Meador, who has been flirting with a love-struck nurse, Dorinda.
The authoriities don’t want Orlando turning his back on the war to think about love and all that romantic sort of stuff … makes a chap weak, don’t you know.
So with plots, jealousy and revenge all around, Handel has created some of his most sublime music, and it is played by an exceptional (if large) orchestra with outstanding continuo, a vitally plangent element in Handel opera.
Zazzo, making his WIN debut, portrays Orlando’s descent into madness with scary conviction and Fflur Wyn and Rebecca Evans make welcome returns to the company as unfortunate Dorinda and unable-to-resist-being-smug Angelica.
For the Bristol performance of the WNO tour, the role of Medoro was sung by James Laing, who took the role at Iford Opera in 2006.