Saturday, December 24, 2011

We will barock you: L-Orlando, or Alexander Mørk-Eidem revisiting Handel's Orlando

Orlando, Komische Oper Berlin, December 21 2011

Director ..... Alexander Mørk-Eidem
Conductor ... Alessandro De Marchi

Orlando ..... Mariselle Martinez
Angelica ..... Brigitte Geller
Medoro ..... Susanne Kreusch
Dorinda ..... Ingrid Frøseth
Zoroastro ..... Andreas Wolf
Isabella, Zoroastro's Assistant ..... Bernd Stempel

We all know that Stefan Herheim has a special talent to deconstructing the libretto of any given opera,as to revitalize the opera with a new intelligently constructed and irresistible story, that is always presented spectacularly and, in essence, remains close to the original libretto -- it's just that way how the essence is projected that is very different. Usually the leaks leading to the premiere of a Herheim production are misleading as to exacerbate the effect of surprise on the public. This approach requires more cervical involvement on the spectator's end. The spectacular side of the show seduces the open-minded traditionalists (no, it is not an oxymoron -- open minded traditionalists do exist.)

In his hugely entertaining, intelligently constructed and "humanizing" production of Orlando, another Norwegian genius-director, Alexander Mørk-Eidem, gives the regie-theater yet another flavor. His show was premiered a couple of years ago and is back on the program this month at the Komische Oper -- all the memorable productions mounted during the Homoki era at the top of the Komishe are being rerun during this operatoc season, before Barrie Kosky takes the top spot in October 2012.

If you are not familiar with the content of this opera, have a look at the synopsis here.

We all remember our first experiences with baroque operas and the puzzles we've had when figuring out who's supposed to be the male and who the female character in the story, who's human, and who's divine or wizard or... It is not only in baroque that girls incarnate the male characters, but it's particularly striking in baroque. Once you overcome the early frustrations and you decode that you should imagine the girl singing Rinaldo, Orlando, Cesare... is a strong man who then fights counter-tenor for a hand of a cute little soprano -- you're good,  and then start exploring the content of invariably far-fetched stories that can be read super-intelligently thanks to the crop of talented, and intelligent young directors.

Now, if you believed your early frustrations are passé, Alexander Mørk-Eidem uses first 10-15 minutes of his show to prove you wrong. 15 minutes later it all becomes clear and the story unfolds in a new way. Deep down it is an opera that celebrates love, and dwells on frustrations/jealousy/pain caused by nonreciprocal love -- and this is what Alex certainly managed to do, only differently.

Isabella pushing the stage after the show ;)

Where to begin?! We all know that Orlando and Medoro are male, while Dorinda, Angelica, and Isabella are female -- even if all of them are sung by (mezzo)soprani. Mørk-Eidem says no: Medoro has long hairs, wears nice female underwear, heels and a robe with flower patterns. Angelica, instead, wears a black suit, her/his hair is short and neatly combed. Isabella... Isabella is [most probably asexual] man indulged in cross-dressing. Very womanly Orlando, instead, while preparing for a fight, is correcting his/her make-up, wears a shirt that emphasizes his/her boobs... Very ordinary looking Dorinda wears a yellow rain coat, does not care about her looks, wanders around the tent in rubber boots, and takes care the van... So it's all messed up at first: Mezzos are supposed to be male characters but they look womanly, while sopranos look and behave like men. Soon it becomes clear that they are all women in passionate love with one another, with Orlando being incapable to get over the fact that Angelica is not in love with him anymore. While Orlando was gone, she spends time with Medoro and Dorinda (who are couple.) The story actually starts one morning with three of them getting out from the tent, after the night spent somewehere in woods camping. And you could tell from the outset that Dorinda felt something has happened that changed her relationship with Medoro. At the same time Medoro and Angelica are attracted to each other and can hardly disguise the passion they feel for each other. And so, we are in the L-world. Love and passion is human, no matter which genders are involved. I absolutely loved this take!

Wait a minute! It does not stop there. Zoroastro is a conman, a guy who smokes pot, hookah,... and "solves" problems to all these girls by offering them hallucinogenic mushrooms, pills... Isabella is helping him all the time -- remember, Isabella is cross-dressed man who putting away the things on the stage, who pushes the stage to turn around its vertical axis, who serves Zoroastro and is most probably asexual. Isabella is the most hilarious character in the story. He's friend with all of them and help the Zoroastro's "magic" to work on them. Another very funny part is when Zoroastro realizes the size of the mess all these girls found themselves in: Orlando is enraged because he's desperately in love with Angelica who fells in love with Medoro, who had to break up with Dorinda who is heartbroken and still in love with Medoro... He [Zoroastro] realizes why all revolves around Medoro and at feels attracted to her/him... at one moment he even tries to make out with Medoro. I was laughing to tears!

But in all that hilarious action, the message of love and passion passes through very clearly and beautifully. Who cares if they are men and women, all women, or all men. It's about love, its intensity in joys, its way to make you do all kinds of irrational things that elate you or break your heart.

I am way too much exposed to the world's best baroque orchestra and the best singers in this genre, and I guess that partly explains why I was not very impressed by the singing, although it was overall good. Always good Brigitte Geller, who can sing everything and is scenically steadily impeccable, is not really in her best fach here. Ingrid Frøseth has a smallish voice that is however at ease with all the top notes, which always seduces the crowd. Andreas Wolf and Susanne Kreusch have the most appropriate voices for this repertoire and sing beautifully, but you cannot not being impressed by Orlando, a Chilean mezzo Mariselle Martinez, who must have lost 3 pounds during this show. She sings everything, she digs in the gravi with no trouble and reaches all the top notes in full voice, while engaged in a complex stage action. Her voice is not among the most beautiful in business, but she gives her soul and heart and the public loved her Orlando.

Two thumbs up to formidable Bernd Stempel, a German comedian, who sets the tone to the show and the whole auditorium was applauding his performance even though he didn't sing at all.

The orchestra was good, did the job very well, and managed to follow the stage action by splitting in two and sometimes in three parts. The moments when Orlando is hallucinating are musically depicted by a chunk of the orchestra placed in the theater gallery, so the sound that was coming was clearly distinguishing that part from the rest of the action. Good job Alessandro De Marchi!

Isabella, Medoro, Angelica, Maestro De Franchi, Orlando, Dorinda, and Zoroastro

Great, great, GREAT show, and a huge THANK YOU to all the artists involved in this --to me-- unforgettable production.

Production photos:

My pics:

Bernd Stempel, Susanne Kreusch, and Brigitte Geller

Brigitte Geller and Mariselle Martinez

Ingrid Frøseth and Andreas Wolf (blurred pic - sorry)

Mariselle Martinez as Super Spice Orlando

Again Isabella, Dorinda, Zoroastro, Orlando, Medoro, and Angelica

Maestro Alessandro De Marchi


1 comment:

  1. The professional reviewers did not like this production, as far as I saw at a glance...

    What I did not like was the use of pyrotechnics. In particular the bang when Orlando killed Angelica was just too much.

    What I especially liked was the specialty of KOB in general: Not having to rely on surtitels because the performance uses an especially prepared in-house German translation and the singing is pretty comprehensible. Recently the press speculated if Barrie Kosky will end this tradition, which I would not like. With three opera houses in one town there is no need for all doing it the same way.

    To some degree I took this Orlando as counterpart to Alcina in Dresden, and especially the end reminded me of it, in comparing how either production dealt with the flat happy end: The KOB Orlando turned it into comic, the Dresden Alcina simply got rid of it altogether.

    And so much for a first opera year for me...