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Opera in Concert.

Orlando is not a typical Handel opera. Its lyrical rather than virtuoso and it has more ensemble numbers than most. Less unusually, two of the three male roles--Orlando and Medoro--are written for high voices, the former originally sung by the castrato Senesino and the latter by a contralto. Today, the options are various combinations of countertenor and mezzo soprano. For the Opera in Concert performance Feb. 3, both roles were assigned to countertenors, though of contrasting tone colors. This had the advantage of making a clear sonic distinction between the men and women, though perhaps at the price of sheer beauty of tone in the big Act 1 trio, "Consolati, o bella".

All five principals showed a good understanding of the required performance style, handled the coloratura well and ornamented tastefully without overdoing it. The standout was soprano Meredith Hall in the seriocomic role of Dorinda, the shepherdess. She sang effortlessly in a clear, bright tone that suited the music perfectly. She played up the comic side of the part quite effectively, too. Virginia Hatfield's Angelica made a good foil. She has a darker, more dramatic voice that blended and contrasted with Hall in a very pleasing way.

The countertenors also made an interesting contrast. David Trudgen, as Orlando, was the more elaborate of the two, showing some freedom in shaping his lines, especially in the mad scenes, and ornamenting somewhat more floridly. Scott Belluz was more direct and perhaps more powerful. He made the most of a rather thankless role, especially after the interval, when he seemed to get into his stride. Geoffrey Sirett sang with power and agility in the low baritone role of the magician, Zoroastro.

The Aradia Ensemble, efficiently directed by Kevin Mallon, was also very pleasing to listen to, especially if one enjoys the incisive tone of period wind instruments. It's a pleasant change to hear a Handel opera played by a small ensemble in a relatively intimate atmosphere. Textures are clearer and the small scale allows the artists a certain freedom to shape the music that isn't possible with a more tightly regimented large orchestra. Twenty or so instrumentalists made a band of appropriate size for the theatre and allowed for the singers to be heard easily.
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Author:Gilks, John
Publication:Opera Canada
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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