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Summer Opera: Orlando in Munich

Rosemary Joshua (Angelica) and David Daniels (Orlando), Munich Opera Festival, 2006For some reason beyond my comprehension (well, not really), Jens has chosen to leave the musical banquet of Munich for what is, by comparison, a brown-bag lunch here in Washington. Speaking only of opera, we have a few interesting productions this summer, while Munich's Bayerische Staatsoper is hosting its annual Münchner Opern-Festspiele, founded in 1876 and the oldest summer opera festival in Europe. They kicked off this summer's festival, a tribute to retiring director Peter Jonas, with the Munich premiere of Handel's Orlando, in a staging by David Alden, with countertenor David Daniels in the title role under the baton of Ivor Bolton. Shirley Apthorp reviewed the production (Orlando, National Theatre, Munich, May 22) for the Financial Times:

Ariosto’s Orlando was the Harry Potter of the 18th century. The Bavarian State Opera, sparing no expense to entertain its audience in Sir Peter Jonas’s last season at the helm, hired the detective fiction author Donna Leon (in her spare time a Handel fan) to write a special programme note to that effect. In fact, David Alden’s gleefully trashy production owes more to cold war films such as The Manchurian Candidate and Dr Strangelove than it does to J. K. Rowling. For the past dozen years, this has been Jonas’s formula for pre-classical success: Ivor Bolton on the podium, a couple of stars in the cast, and Alden to drown the da capo arias in slapstick. Baroque Lite, fun for all the family!

Alden’s new staging of Handel’s Orlando trivialises the piece with such élan that its superficiality is almost an end in itself. The magician Zoroastro is a mad scientist warmonger, manipulating four hapless lovers with low-tech brainwashing. His special victim is the soldier Orlando, who must forget his beloved Angelica (now happily hitched to the exotic Medoro) and devote himself to the glories of war. After a spectacular mad scene, Orlando complies. Paul Steinberg (sets) and Buki Shiff (costumes) have created an extravagant desert world of army motels, fake flamingos, and comic-book war toys. It is peopled by muscle-bound GIs, tarts and Taliban members. Dorinda is a military secretary who moonlights as a prostitute, Angelica a leggy blonde with a new outfit for every aria, Paris Hilton crossed with Princess Diana. Both women fall for Medoro. He is a crafty Arab in floaty black robes with cartridge belt and scimitar, a racial stereotype in drag.
Medoro is played by Beth Clayton, with a fake beard. David Daniels was apparently mostly covered by the orchestra. Apthorp's thumbnail review of this production is that it is "a fine, fun, forgettable evening." Manuel Brug also wrote a review (Depressiver Opernheld ballert im Spinnenpanzer, May 22) for Die Welt, with the following subtitle: "Paris Hilton loves Bin Laden: Handel's Orlando is the final Baroque premiere of the Peter Jonas era in Munich."


jfl said...

That's hot.

Charles T. Downey said...

I'm sure it's moments like this that you are proudest of your hometown. ;-)

jfl said...

Hey, I *love* Alden (and Konwitschny) - I grew up with his Handel (well, small exaggeration - but it was his Guglio Cesare, the premiere of which I saw, that did the job) when they hadn't even heard of baroque opera at most of the US houses. And Paris Hilton at the Opera... I *could* think of worse.

Charles T. Downey said...

You have every good reason to be proud of Munich, certainly in the field of opera. If anyone is to be blamed, it's that Yank David Alden. Still, as you have said many times, better outraged than bored. I'll take Handel any way I can.

jfl said...

I don't think baroque opera would have ever quite taken off like it did, had it not been for Alden no.1 and his sometimes-outrageous, sometimes-bizarre, sometimes-enchanting directions. In costume stagings, that stuff would have been uniformly yawned out of the opera houses in Germany, back into obscurity. There is a reason why Munich lobs Alden every baroque opera that comes their way.