Sarah Pope from the WNO Chorus and Lawrence Zazzo as Orlando. Pictures: Bill Cooper


Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome


IN Welsh National Opera’s Madness season, Orlando, Handel’s early eighteenth century opera is the second of the trilogy, flanked by I puritani and Sweeney Todd.

In true WNO style, the company take a somewhat slow story and turn it into a tale of epic emotion. Thanks to the innovative and dramatic staging by Yannis Thavoris, a World War Two  setting makes for a great creative concept and gives a new insight to each character.

The story is of a man, Orlando, whose love for Angelica is unrequited. When Orlando hears of her plan to run away with new lover Medoro, in his madness, he plans to take revenge.

Handel’s score is easy to follow and enjoyable for the most part. The slick orchestra is led by conductor Andrew Griffiths, who in his mastery has the power to manipulate the audience’s mind by sudden changes of atmosphere and emotion in the music, just as the story demands.

The language itself does not hold much to the imagination, sung in Italian, we are witness to flowery and melodramatic language mostly describing Greek and Roman gods. This however was only a fault of Handel himself, and not the company’s. Each performer, given the limited tools they had with dialogue, did well to convey the very human reactions to loss and love in the most charming of ways.

The story set in a hospital in the midst of World War Two. It was an excellent backdrop for the story to be conveyed. The revolving stage is central to the fast paced atmosphere, allowing us to see inside the dark brown hospital and inside the reception. At the start of the play, love struck Orlando is hooked to electro wires and is being examined by doctor Zoroastro who is played by the talented Daniel Grice. A chorus of nurses are also present. They do not sing, but blend in well to help convey the story.

Orlando is played by the powerful and beautiful tenor Lawrence Zazzo. In his debut role with WNO, he takes command of the stage and the central role with a natural ease. In the first act, he is a love struck young man, full of life and energy. Deciding that love is greater than going to war, Orlando pursues his lover, Angelica, who is played by the wonderful and equally moving Rebecca Evans. Medoro and Angelica

We also meet the shining and bright eyed soprano Dorinda, played by Fflur Wyn. Dorinda is a tragic character whose love for Medoro, sung by the excellent Robin Blaze, is also unrequited. Throughout the production, Wyn brings a magnificent spark to the woeful character and with a superb mastery for characterisation and song, she creates a role that is nothing short of wonderful.

Robin Blaze as Medoro and Rebecca Evans as Angelica

Out of three acts, the second was most dramatic. In this we see Orlando’s madness and desire to kill. With the mixture of dramatic music and sheer emotion, the backdrop of the revolving stage is projected with images of war. It is an interesting addition and a visual reflection of what is happening inside Orlando’s mind through the loss of love.

A particularly striking moment was when Orlando sets fire to the hospital. The powerful effects on stage create an impressive climactic effect.

Staying true to the context of the time, Orlando is cured by Zoroastro using electro shock therapy. The sequence on stage is tastefully recreated and the pain shown by Zazzo is excruciatingly hard to watch.

The end, unfortunately, was rather questionable. Again this was no fault of the company, as staging and delivery was second to none. In the last sequences, Orlando is cured of all madness and gives Angelica and Medoro his blessing.  It was Handel’s sudden change of tone and miraculous recovery of Orlando that did not sit well and skewed the integrity of the mostly dramatic story.

Perhaps it is the time and era of Handel’s work that did not translate well today. The show itself was slick with a clever concept, supported with a cast and orchestra of sublime talent.  It is entertaining, although with a somewhat confusing ending.

Elizabeth Halpin




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