The show that launched the Hobart Baroque 2014 festival in Tasmania, the Glimmerglass 2003 production from New York of Georg Frideric Handel’s opera Orlando was an extraordinary success.
The glorious music of love and life was delivered with great style and sensational singing by five fabulous voices; countertenors Randall Scotting as Orlando and Daniel Bubeck as Medoro, sopranos Kathryn Lewek as Angelica and Anna Davidson as Dorinda as well as Bass-Baritone Tom Corbett as Zoroastro.
With a libretto based on Italian writer Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando furioso of 1516 about Angelica a pagan princess and her journey in life, this show’s characters drew us into their sphere by sharing powerful moments of emotive intimacy.
This all took place in the glorious Theatre Royal, Hobart a space not only conducive to that style of encounter but also one that kept those same richly rewarding moments resonating for a very long time.
Orlando, while fun and fabulous, is not a trifle piece. It was presented by a hand picked group of American singers whose voices complimented each other and highlighted the brilliance of their individual strengths and skills. The opera is rarely sung or seen and those present were dazzled by its design and direction excellence, guided so ably by the multi talented Chas Rader-Shieber.
This production of Orlando deserves to be an ongoing powerful voice in the world of Baroque music. The audience was lifted up into a place of unexpected realms of beauty and breathless wonder.
We laughed out loud spontaneously for the sheer joy we all felt during the work’s light-hearted moments and we were continually delighted and dazzled by one stunning aria after another.
They were performed with great technical prowess and a wonderful sense of luxurious longing so that the music both gladdened our hearts and nurtured our souls.
Countertenor Randall Scotting as Orlando is sought after as a ‘Baroque hero’ in America and revealed why as he generously shared what the New York Times described as his outstanding ‘clarion countertenor voice’ delivered in true virtuosic style.
Scotting had both the power and presence to draw us in and hold us captive whenever he was on stage
As he was carried away on the fury of his love for Angelica we went along for the ride feeling the pain he did when finding out that she was really in love with Medoro, a rival for her hand.
When Orlando ‘went mad’ for the distress of it all we had empathy for him, and when he was restored to good health we were relieved and happy for him.
Bass Baritone Tom Corbeil’s voice rumbled deep and low with a sense of earth bound glory that entirely suited the superb setting in a wooded grove, which was also very appropriate in Tasmania.
No wonder he is in great demand. As Zoroastro he was a commanding presence on what is by today’s standards a very small stage.
The show’s clever designer adjusted the scenery to suit its new space and ramped the stage as in ancient times, elevating the singers and giving the scenery a great feeling of depth.
Every woman present wanted passionately to possess Zoroastro’s truly wonderful silver coat, which he swirled around so sensationally in showing off not only how beautiful he was, but also how talented and in tune the designer is with fashionable concerns.
The direction of the antics of the local actor extras employed to enhance the movement, change the scenery and highlight deliciously amusing events taking place were particularly inspired, wonderfully choreographed and completely captivating.
Tom Hawkey, the youthful but very talented actor aged 11 playing the role of Amor the God of Love, gave a stand out performance. His impish and quite delightful facial expressions were a wonderful linking element in the production design that drew the actors and their roles together in a way that was unique and very appealing.
Kathryn Lewek was a superb Angelica and this lovely prize winning soprano revealed why she is rapidly garnering attention on the international stage in a world-class performance of passionate singing that left us longing for more.
Her final breathtaking aria had everyone spellbound and admiring the long lingering elegance of her style as she personally expressed her own love for the ethereal beauty of the music by Handel that she was performing.
Part of the early Baroque legacy was to allow singers to improvise and place their own interpretation on a composer’s intent and Kathryn’s was exceedingly lovely.
Soprano Anna Davidson as Dorinda was a bouquet of delight from how she looked in her delicious ‘dairy maid’ inspired costume scattered with roses, to how she expressed herself through a naughty mischievous and very animated face full of fun.
Daniel Bubeck as Medoro was distinctive.
His aria in Act 2 was so powerful and commanding that I found myself musing of how many countertenor Gods do exist in heaven.
It was hard not to ponder wistfully on the huge differences that exist between all the countertenor voices I have had the joy of listening to over the past two decades.
In his splendid aria Daniel Bubeck excelled himself with a wondrous purity of pitch and tone and cool elegant phrasing that lingered, making it a defining and delicious moment in the opera, which entirely captivated the audience.
The group as a whole had voices that entirely filled the acoustically perfect space of Hobart’s architectural gem the Theatre Royal with its very special quirky type of beauty. They not only resonated gloriously off the architecture, but also with all those in attendance. We all had a ball!.
The greatest laughter came when suddenly in the midst of a highly amusing scene a ‘golden’ winged angel from heaven arrived in a gleaming costume replete with wings elevent feet high, one that reputedly cost some thousands of dollars for an eleven second moment on stage, which deliciously had everyone falling about.
It was easy to see the cast members were all enjoying the show too as they looked out on an audience all bonding together in what is the most picturesque and beautiful of settings
As I learned later for the singers it was a true treat because in such a wonderfully small-scale theatre they are able to see the whole audience sitting amongst its neo-rococo splendor strewn so deliciously with red roses.
The audience enjoyed Orlando enormously for it was a splendid night, which was witnessed by its many laugh filled moments and the broad smiling faces everywhere during the two intervals as well as after the show as they streamed off to a happy after party held at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
Unveiled earlier in the day by the Governor’s of NSW and Tasmania together Eugene Delacroix’s 5 million dollar painting of Angelica with the wounded Medora lent by the Art Gallery of NSW will remain on show during the festival.
There were congratulations all around and warmest thanks not only for the singers, but also the quite simply splendid Orchestra of the Antipodes under the baton of that great Australian genius of interpreting Baroque scores Erin Helyard.
And as for Artistic Director Leo Schofield and Executive Director Jarrod Carland, there were never ending accolades for them both.
Everyone especially admired their ability to underpin the event with thoughtful details as having Hobart Baroque clad volunteers lighting the way to the after party with luminous lime green torches, which was most appreciated.
We can only hope that the new Government in Tasmania will also be able to see what an enormous plus for Hobart and for Tasmania the Hobart Baroque festival is after only two short seasons. It will benefit the economy of the local scene and will give interstate and international tourism a great boost, on what Leo calls the sensational small island with big ideas.
The Hobart Baroque 2014 Opening Night of Orlando experience was one of pure joy.
With special thanks to Hobart Photographer Rosie Hastie for allowing us to use her wonderful images and to Steven Godbee Publicity and Photography for all his assistance before, during and after Hobart Baroque 2014.