Orlando Furioso

Antonio Vivaldi, libretto by Garzio Bracciuli, based on an epic poem by Ludovico Arlosi
Teatro la Fenice
Teatro la Fenice, Venice

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The Cast of Orlando Furioso Credit: Paolo Conserva
Sonia Prina Credit: Paolo Conserva
The Cast of Orlando Furioso Credit: Paolo Conserva

Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) claimed to have composed 94 operas. Orlando Furioso, based on two episodes of Ludovico Arlosi’s epic poem of courtly love and courageous deeds, premièred in Venice in 1729. It was his second attempt to turn the poem into an opera. The first had failed.

The present production, directed by Fabio Ceresa and conducted by Diego Fasolis, was seen in Venice in 2017. The music is gorgeous. The virtuoso singing is spectacular. I enjoyed the performance very much.

Cesara gives the opera the full Baroque erotic treatment. It has a camp, decadent, no-marbles 18th century feel to it. The women are manly. The men are effeminate. The costumes, wigs and helmets are bright, rich and bejewelled. The boots are silver. The breasts are bare. The men wear skirts. The costumes are designed by Giuseppe Palella. The set is designed by Massimo Checchello.

Orlando (Sonia Prina), a Paladin from the army of Charlemagne, is in love with Angelica (Francesca Asoronte) who loves and marries Modero, a prince. Orlando, arrogant, jealous, is sent off to find a magic potion and kills the monster, who guards it. He is finally driven crazy, hence the opera’s title.

Alcina (Lucia Cirillo), an enchantress, is a femme cruelle. She turns her numerous lovers into trees, beasts and liquid springs. Cirillo queens it with sparkling wit and a wicked smile. Her sumptuous pink boudoir seashell is a maison de plaisir. Her entourage is a hedonistic scrum, all over each other, sensually languorous and sensually energetic. It is difficult to separate the boys from the girls. The boys are in drag.

Astolfo (Riccardo Novaro) loves Alcina who loves Ruggiero, a knight, who is loved by Bradamante (Loriana Castellano), a warrior woman, who disguises herself as a man. Ruggiero and Medoro, originally cast for castrati, are now sung by countertenors, Carlo Vistoli and Raffaele Pe, the former with his tongue firmly in his cheek.

Let me repeat myself. The virtuoso singing is spectacular. The music is gorgeous. Viva Vivaldi!

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch

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