Haydn is not a name that cones readily to mind at the mention of Opera, yet he composed a large number. The precise number is not known, as some have disappeared without trace, but the titles and production of at least 18 is known and it is accepted that the total could be 25.
Orlando Paladino was the most popular, being performed repeatedly during his lifetime. It was written for performance at Esterhazy Palace where Haydn was resident composer.
Concert performances of operas are normally shunned, by this lifelong opera-goer. An attitude apparently shared by many of this year’s Festival audiences, judging by the disappointingly smaller attendance.
This particular performance was a revelation and deserved a full house. The soloists were word perfect, singing without scores (with the sole exception of the title character, Orlando, who at times referred to a score discreetly placed in the organ gallery).
Not being tied to a front-of- stage music stand gave them s freedom of movement and room for action. And they made successful, entertaining use of this.
With expressive gestures they dashed around, coming and going through the two platform doors and the two organ gallery doors, adding action to note-perfect singing. As even the centre-stage orchestra became involved it is difficult to envisage a fully staged version -- using the locations specified in the score – being more worthwhile.
The plot, based on Ariosto’s poem Orlando Furioso, is routine for the period and fairly trite. Angelica, Queen of Cathay, has forsaken the Christian knight Orlando for the wounded Saracen warrior Medoro she found on a battlefield and nursed back to health, They take refuge in a castle to escape an angered Orlando. Rodomonte, King of Barbaria, is in love with Angelica and determined to rescue her from the heathen.
In his search Rodomonte encounters Pasquale, Orlando’s squire and Eurilla. He challenges Pasquale to a duel but runs off when Eurilla tells him Orlando is near. Pasquale tells Eurilla he is hungry for food and love and is in love with her.
They add comical counterpoint to Orlando’s fury, Angelica’s predicament, Medoro’s doubts and Rodomonte’e relentless pursuit. Angelica calls on the sorceress Alcina for help. All ends happily despite Orlando’s imprisonment, Angelica’s flight from savages, wounds for Medoro, and magic.
In such a coherent, unified performance it would be unfair praise any one singer but the comic interplay between Sunhae Im’s pert (in a tantalising short red dress) Eurilla and the braggart Pasquale of Victor Torres was genuinely humorous and brought laughter from the audience.
The opera ends with all united on stage singing “Se volete esser felice” (If you want to be happy). The audience erupted into the most vociferous, enthusiastic and prolonged applause I have heard this Festival. It was easy to see why Berlin Staatsoper chose Freiburg Baroque Orchestra to perform Orlando Paladino as a tribute to Haydn on the 200th anniversary of his death.
Event: Thursday, August 25, 2011. The concert will be broadcast on September 17 in the Opera on 3 series on BBC Radio3.