Like Alcina and Ariodante, Orlando is drawn, roughly speaking, from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. And in this case we get the title character himself, Orlando, who has come back from the wars – it doesn’t really matter which one/s – in a bad way.
Orlando is in love with Angelica, who used to be in love with Orlando but now loves Medoro. Medoro likes Angelica well enough, but is happy to string along Dorinda, who loves Medoro – or is pretty sure she does – and this complicated situation unfolds under the watchful eye of Zoroastro, a Sarastro-like figure whose primarily pleasure in life seems to be observing other people’s follies and shaking his head.
The point of the story is that love has turned Orlando into a little bit of a loose cannon. When Angelica provokes Orlando’s jealousy in Act I in order to buy herself some time to escape with Medoro, Orlando decides to rush off to war again to prove himself worthy; when in Act II it emerges that Angelica has betrayed him, he completely loses his shit; by Act III he is delirious and hallucinating, and ultimately he thinks he has killed Angelica in a fit of rage – but luckily it turns out he hasn’t. He falls asleep, and by the time he wakes up, it’s all sorted out. Angelica and Medoro get to remain together, Dorinda has pulled her socks up and resigned herself to a life without Medoro, and Orlando . . . well, Orlando gets to go back to the wars, I suppose.
The opera seems to be set up, on the surface of it, as a conflict between the dangers of disordered emotion on the one side and reason and/or self control on the other. Zoroastro is definitely the representative of the latter – after Angelica and Medoro resolve to flee Orlando’s wrath in Act II, he gets to sing them a whole aria about self-control.
This production from Zurich, however, does something that undercuts Zoroastro’s moral authority in a fairly interesting way. The war from which Orlando has returned is World War I. During the last section of the overture, we meet him at his arrival at what appears to be a hospital, or some kind of sanatorium. He hands over his duffle bag and his gun. The first person he meets is Zoroastro (Konstantin Wolff), a sinister-looking doctor with a shaved head, little wire-framed glasses, and a lab coat. Zoroaster has put up a diagram on the chalkboard, a picture of Orlando’s mind, with sections devoted to love, reputation, glory, and reason – there are some question marks connected with the relationship between love and reason.
The hospital itself is not particularly creepy. It’s not all tiled floors and greenish lighting as you might expect – rather, there is pretty wallpaper, a warm-colored wooden floor, glimpses of natural light here and there through skylights, and, usefully I guess, there is also a murphy bed that folds out from the wall and seems to belong to Angelica. However, one might ask what Angelica and Medoro are doing in this hospital setting. Dorinda’s presence makes sense – she’s a nurse. Orlando is definitely a patient. But Medoro and Angelica seem to be basically rattling around this institution in a series of very snazzy outfits. What gives?
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