HANDEL: Orlando, Blu-ray (2007/2009)

by | Jun 21, 2009 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

HANDEL: Orlando, Blu-ray (2007/2009)

Director: Jens-Daniel Herzog
Starring: Marijana Mijanovic, Martina Jankova, Katharina Peetz, Christina Clark, Konstantin Wolff
Conducted by: William Christie, with the Orchestra “La Scintilla” of the Zurich Opera
Studio: ArtHaus Musik 101 310 [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 color, 1080i HD
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, LPCM Stereo
Extras: Trailers
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian
Feature Length: 155 minutes

Rating: ***

I’m not particularly enamored with baroque opera; I personally find it usually too vocally “screechy” for my own tastes. I especially abhor those in which a female lead sings the male part – there are so many capable tenors out there who could do the job and offer perhaps a bit more believability to the proceedings. For Orlando’s premiere, Handel hand-picked the singers, choosing the famed castrato Senesino for the title role. Perhaps the prevailing voices of today seem to think that a female can more closely approximate the original intentions of the composer vocally, but, for me, it just doesn’t really seem to increase an opera’s believability factor. Especially when the female playing the male retains a huge quotient of her femininity, which almost always seems to be the case. Handel’s original production was apparently plagued with problems that resulted not only in a missed opening date, but a shortened theatrical run as well. Destined for musical oblivion, it was rediscovered in the early twentieth century, and has since become one of Handel’s most popular operas.

Although the “Orlando” story’s genesis dates back to the time of Charlemagne, this 2007 staging by the Zurich Opera gives the production a decidedly World War One slant in the areas of costuming and stage design. There are some notably unusual stage effects, not the least of which is the onstage projection of WWI images onto the backdrops and actors that are intended to help set the stage for the action. While I realize that the use of the projected images was an artistic decision, I didn’t find them particularly compelling, nor did I feel that their use enhanced the flow of the onstage action. And at various intervals throughout, lighting effects were used to give much of the stage a sort of sepia-toned quality, I’m again assuming to increase the historical perception of the action. The story line revolves around the war hero Orlando, who has seemingly nonsensically abandoned his sense of duty wholly because of his lovesickness, and the efforts of those around him to restore him to his senses.

The Blu-ray disc is technically superb, with highly detailed images, deep black levels and excellent contrast. Once again, the color palette is intentionally unusual, but quite natural looking and robust as employed throughout. The audio content is also first-rate; while I wasn’t equipped to take advantage of the DTS HD Master Audio 7.1 offering, the downsampled 5.1 version gave an ample impression of being present for the proceedings at the Zurich Opera House. And the musicians were superb; William Christie is the perfect conductor for this baroque repertory. While opera discs typically don’t offer much in terms of bonus features, this one did offer a selection of trailers for other available Art Haus Musik titles. Some of the trailers looked really interesting, particularly the Wagner Tannhauser, which was very visually striking!

While I’m personally not a huge fan of Baroque opera repertory, real fans of Handel’s Orlando will be hard-pressed to find a more visually stylish or well-sung version. Recommended.

— Tom Gibbs


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