Antonio Vivaldi, Orlando furioso, Marilyn Horne, Susan Patterson, Kathleen Kuhlmann, San Francisco Opera (1990)
The singing in this production is definitely worth suffering through the libretto, and to produce this opera well, you need a cast with no weak links. This one is excellent, beginning with the incomparible Marilyn Horne in the title role (created by the contralto Lucia Lancetti, one of the first great trouser-role specialists in Venice in the 18th century). Horne had such incredible resonance in her low range, combined with nearly flawless agility, all of which she had to use to navigate her maze of melismatic arias. (As I learned from the invaluable L'Opéra Baroque Web page of Jean-Claude Brenac, Marilyn Horne's history with this role goes back to the first modern revival of the opera, at Verona's Teatro Filarmonico in June 1978, directed by Claudio Scimone and with James Bowman in the alto castrato role of Ruggiero. More or less the same production was revived in 1981 in Paris for the Festival de France.) Musically, you will have no complaints with the entire cast. The staging was, I thought, somewhat boring for this sort of over-the-top piece, although I enjoyed the dancers who accompanied Alcina (Kathleen Kuhlmann), costumed as marble statues who magically come to life (when I first saw them I thought they were awfully lifelike). Not having heard the recent Naive recording of this opera, I can't tell you how it stacks up, but I have read good things.