Horrifying number of empty seats at Orlando tonight. Please, if you haven't booked, do so, and encourage your family, friends, frolleagues, bridge partners, archenemies and anybody else you can think of to do likewise.
I'm standing by the sheep. Yes, maybe they do carry the joke too far, but I can't help wondering if maybe that's the point. They start getting unfunny (well, not to me, because I love them) at around the same time the opera starts getting unfunny. Sheep overload coincides with Orlando's breaking point. Just a thought. And while I can see the objection to weird descending objects/people which distract from serious arias, I'm still not bothered. Especially as I don't think that distraction is their only function. Angelica's showgirl descent draws us into Orlando's mindset — he's not listening to Zoroastro, so neither are we. The sheep in Dorinda's "Se mi rivolgo al prato" only appear when she hits the da capo, and they give her own little mad scene, a reminder that Orlando isn't the only human being made distraught by unrequited passion. If they make you think "leave that poor girl alone", then so much the better, we're supposed to feel sorry and indignant for her.
I hear the set almost fell over on Wednesday evening. So I was worried about it tonight, but it stayed upright, although it did make a bit of a scary lurch when Dorinda started banging on the doors. Speaking of malfunctions: tonight the sheep Dorinda shoots actually appeared in full (all we saw on opening night were its feet) — it's the blind cupid sheep, my favourite.
The same team created another production of Orlando for Chicago Opera Theatre just a couple of months ago, by the way. Different concept (film noir) although still in the 40s. Reviews can be read here.
I've heard from two different people (one of whom has seen it, one of whom hasn't but likes to jump to conclusions) that productions like this Orlando are no good because they "make the opera ridiculous". Well, I don't think so. I think it's the creaky, hypertraditional productions, the ones which play into every cartoon stereotype of opera, which sail closest to the wind in terms of making a fool of the genre. I quite liked John Copley's stand-and-sing Ariodante but it was lucky to have singers with sufficiently strong stage presence to carry it off. His Lucia has a nostalgic appeal (created for Joan etc etc) but it has long since reached its use-by date. Next time Lucia rolls around I want Rachelle in the title role and Elke Neidhardt directing. Whereas this mad Orlando, as far as I can see, makes the opera look, well, fascinating, and gorgeous, and definitely intriguing. Which, of course, it is.
And of course I must restate that I ♥ Rachelle. You know, just in case that wasn't clear. She's great throughout but particularly so in the final act, where her performance (and voice) really take fire. The duet with Orlando is fabulous. She's also in the Natalie Dessay league when it comes to nutty curtain calls. But I wonder if she ever gets sick of being described as "statuesque"?