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The Imaginary Lovers

 by Suzanne Daumann

A wonderful cast guided by conductor Ivor Bolton with drive and finesse in a production by Axel Ranisch in the right balance between irony and emotion gift us a very plaisant evening with Orlando Paladino by Haydn.

Munich on July 23, 2018 - The last premiere of this year’s Munich Opera Festival is Haydn’s Orlando Paladino. Axel Ranisch situates the plot somewhere between family, cinema and the mythical forest of the fairytale world. During the light and ironical overture, a short film introduces the characters, including two who are not to be found in the original libretto: Gabi and Heiko Herz are Alcina’s parents, and own an old movie theatre featuring „Medoro und Angelica“, obviously a slightly kitschy love story. We also learn that Gabi has an affair with Licone, janitor and father of Eurilla, the cleaner, and that Heiko has a major crush on Rodolfo Rodomonte.

The curtain opens on the old-fashioned cinema foyer, with its ticket booth and popcorn counter. The Herz family is busy and Eurilla, sung by delicious soprano Elena Sancho Pereg, instead of sweeping the floor sings an aria about how hard it is to have to work. Her father Licone, sung by Guy de Mey, comes and warns her about a choleric knight, out to get pretty much everyone. He is no other than Rodomonte, Papa Herz’s crush. One by one enter the other characters: Rodomonte delivers a rodomontade and rides off in search of Orlando, Angelica sings her love for Medoro and begs him to flee Orlando’s wrath, Medoro is torn between love and fear, and Orlando jumps on the counter, smashing the popcorn-machine. Little by little, the cinema, having acquired a few rows of seats in its center, turns into a magical place where everything is possible: Orlando and Rodomonte believe themselves in love with queen Angelica, yet they are probably after a job as royal husband. As for Angelica, she loves a simple soldier, Medoro. A tragicomical imbroglio ensues, with people on the run, others chasing them, love serments, inner conflicts, fights… All this is sung and played by a wonderful cast who, guided by conductor Ivor Bolton and Axel Ranisch, find the right balance between irony and emotion.

Adela Zaharia, soprano, sings Angelica. A voice like milk and honey, sweet and savory, a soft and exquisite presence - she is not very queenly, she is a woman who loves. Angelica and Eurilla: it’s the women who know „che cosa è amor“, as for the men, well… The knights, Orlando and Rodomonte, are pursuing some chivalrous ideal, second cousins to Don Quixote. Medoro is really in love, but alas, he’s also something of a coward and a wee bit vain, as on can tell by the enormous bows he wears on his shoes and his entire white silk court habit. He is the only one to wear a historical costume, as most of the costumes are in tune with the 1950s theme of the cinema, the knights wearing symbolic armor. Tenor Dovlet Nurgeliyev interprets Medoro with drive and sensitivity, his is a smooth and ample voice, whose golden timbre blends perfectly with Angelica’s. Another magnificent tenor is Mathias Vidal in the title role. The voice is as strong, agile and versatile as its owner. A consummate comedian, he inhabits the furious knight down to his fingertips: in the second part, in background video projections, Axel Ranisch tells in the hidden part of the story, whilst the cinema has become a battlefield, with a dead horse in its center. Thus we see Papa Heiko kidnap Rodomonte and Orlando and make them experience the other man’s presence with banded eyes - their hands are touching, will they understand that their reciprocal hate is really love? Their fingertips are touching, their hands are exploring tenderly, Rodomonte caresses the other’s face who likes it fine, but then he frees his eyes, sees a man and flees. As for Rodomonte, he has turned dreamy. The acting in these videos is impeccable and the juxtaposition of the two elements strongly underlines the work’s ambiguity. Another instance occurs when Pasquale, Orlando’s squire - sung by the third amazing tenor in this production, David Portillo, whose voice and stage presence might steal the scene, were it not for his partners who can handle the challenge - sings an aria of victory, his leather jerkin cribbed with darts. Meanwhile, a video close-up shows Rodomonte riding through the forest, getting off his horse, sitting on a moss-grown boulder. He takes out a plastic lunch box and begins placidly to chew on his sandwich. Baritone Edwin Crossley-Mercer plays Rodomonte, imperturbable and lost in his own inner life - he will open up at the end when Papa Heiko and he fall into each other’s arms. Papa Heiko has been so busy helping his sorceress daughter Alcina to bring about the happy end that he certainly deserves his own happiness. Heiko Pinkowski is touching in this silent role that consists mostly of video close-ups. Alcina is interpreted by the wonderful Tara Erraught, playful and clever. Father and daughter are doing all they can to persuade Orlando to leave Angelica and Medoro in peace and to get back to his job and his quests. In the end, Alcina asks Caronte for help, and he drips Lethe water into Orland’s eyes, inducing a healing memory loss. François Lis is a majestic and troubling Caronte, accompanied by his ravens - a group of dancers from the Bayrische Staatsballet in black trousers and bird skull masks. In the end Orlando, having come back to reason, unites the couples: Angelina and Medoro, Pasquale and Eurilla, Gabi and Licone, Rodomonte and Heiko. And goes off alone into the sunset, in search of new adventures.

Ivor Bolton, well-known for his historically informed interpretations, conducts the Münchner Kammerorchester with drive and finesse, highlighting the many funny and illustrating details of which Haydn’s music is so rich, and when Pasquale sings an aria where he has a funny dialogue with the orchestra, we have no trouble imagining Haydn and the musicians at Esterhaza during the creation of this work.

A family affair, to sum it up, an evening with chamber music intimacy, entertaining and a huge success.

The ovations and bravos are deserved indeed: bravi tutti!

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