(Previous section here.)
As I said, this is a set of performances that seems to click really well. Orlando is Marilyn Horne, who is a pleasure to listen to and who also knows just how to pitch this vaguely silly character to the audience – Orlando’s “I have dislodged the marble barrier!” and other such moments are funny in exactly the way they ought to be, with not even a suggestion that Orlando is conscious of the joke, and at the same time the more serious bits, like Orlando’s moment of madness followed by sleep in Act III, are heartfelt but not heavy-handed.
(Here is where I get annoyed at DVDs from the 90s, because apparently no one could figure out how to do track divisions. There seems to be this tendency to divide operas into about eighteen minute chunks which might contain two or three different recitatives and arias – woe betide the person who just wants to know what the third number in the second chunk was! Seriously. Who thought this was a bright idea?)
Jeffrey Gall as Ruggiero had some great moments in this – I liked the ringing high notes in the aria with the flute that is not listed in the DVD insert because of reasons outlined in the previous paragraph. The lowest part of his range is not always as fun to listen to, but the nice moments, including a lot of very pretty ornamentation, far outweigh the bits I didn’t like as much. And while we’re talking about male voices – we get a non-woolly-sounding bass, Kevin Langan, as Astolfo! I was pleased. (Some low male voices tend to sound sort of fuzzy to me, in a way I don’t really like. Langan’s I liked.) His Act III aria, “dove il valor combatte,” where he, Bradamante and Ruggiero are preparing to go after Alcina was really nicely done. The same holds for William Matteuzzi as Medoro.
Vivaldi wrote a lot of firework-like music for female voices, and we get plenty of it here, performed across the board with a kind of clean, effortless accuracy and – again – a consistency of style among performers that really works. Hightlights for me were the inevitable “torrent!”* aria (Bradamante’s “se cresce un torrento” sung by mezzo (alto?) Sandra Walker, whose voice I really liked just in terms of sound), Susan Patterson as Angelina singing “chiara al pari di,” and Alcina (Kathleen Kuhlmann) in general, but especially in Alcina’s sad-ish “cosi potessi” towards the end of Act II. These are not all, or not only, moments of pyrotechnics – there’s plenty to fool around with expressively, and these ladies certainly do that. But again, there is no scenery chewing, no Big Moments – the tone is very consistent in that everyone is emoting roughly the same amount and in a similar style.
So. On balance, definitely worth the $1.75 in overdue fines I will be paying because I kept this over the weekend to watch it!
* there is also the inevitable “waves on the stormy sea!” aria, sung by Orlando at the end of Act I. Don’t get me wrong, I like these! They are the truckstop coffee of baroque opera: they’ll keep you awake, and you can nearly always find one.