OTC production mixes the classical with the contemporary, writes Graeme Stewart

Traditionally, Orlando has not been privy to the kind of public admiration bestowed upon other notable GF Handel operatics like his oratorio Israel in Egypt or the masque Acis and Galatea, but it is currently going through something of a revival. The Opera Theatre Company continue that revival at the Stranmillis Drama Theatre, as part of an Ireland-wide tour. 

At its core, Orlando is an exploration of the attributes of love, whether good or bad, and their subsequent effects on Orlando himself. The Opera Theatre Company achieves a great deal of humor in this opera seria, primarily between countertenor William Towers and soprano Mary Hegarty. The production also provides a contemporary perspective of this classic tale, designed to draw the audience further into the fantasy world that Orlando creates for himself.

The five-strong cast interact well, delivering solid performances that sit well with the contemporary setting and English translation of the libretto. Towers’ manically charged interpretation of the central character, Orlando, displays technical mastery in the long melismatic passages, proving one of the highlights of the evening. His balance of humour and emotional angst create an equilibrium which helps us an audience to empathise with the character.

Jonathan Best also gives an assured interpretation of the magical Zoroastro, although one thinks that this may have been one area where the contemporary setting might have been responsible for the loss of the more ‘fantastical’ moments a classical situation may have provided. That said, however, Best’s performance is a strong one, his interaction with the orchestra superb, particularly in his first exposition calling upon Orlando to return to his life as a soldier and to renounce his love for Angelica.

Other notable performances of the evening are Mary Hegarty’s as Dorinda who, at various points is on the verge of becoming a buffa character. This bittersweet and contemporary reading of the shepherdess provides a central role alongside which Natasha Jouhl (as Angelica) and Reno Troilus (as Medoro) offer sensitive performances while their own story flourishes.

Another pleasant surprise is the inclusion of a Baroque orchestra with conductor Christian Curnyn leading from the harpsichord. Given the rather dull acoustic of the Stranmillis Theatre the musicians play fantastically well, particularly at the end of the opera, with Orlando in the final stages of his madness. Handel’s music is incredibly powerful in this section and Simon Holdsworth’s design enhances the moment to great effect.

With Orlando the Opera Theatre Company has created a production which thrives on the idea of love as a central theme, representing another fresh perspective from a company who always seem to surprise.