Riccardo Musacchio/Flavio Ianniello
Conductor Andrea Marco (left) leads the Venice Baroque Orchestra in Vivaldi's opera, with bass Lorenzo Regazzo as Astolfo.
Ludovico Ariosto's 16th-century epic Orlando Furioso is set during the conflict between Charlemagne's paladin warriors and the invading Saracen army, but Ariosto is more concerned with romance than history. The most famous of the poem's many plotlines is the story of Orlando, a paladin who struggles with his love for Angelica, a woman who loves someone else. Also making appearances are the troubled lovers Bradamante and Ruggiero, as well as the powerful sorceress Alcina.
The three acts of Vivaldi's Orlando Furioso are all set on Alcina's magical island. Alcina controls the island thanks to an enchanted urn, containing the ashes of Merlin — which Alcina has stolen. Orlando has been ordered to get the ashes back.
As ACT ONE begins, Angelica has come to the island looking for her lover Medoro — and trying to avoid the unwanted advances of Orlando. She goes to Alcina, who promises to help.
The knight Astolfo has been sent to the island by Orlando to help find Merlin's ashes, but even before Orlando arrives, Astolfo has already switched sides. He was bewitched, and then seduced, by Alcina. So when Orlando shows up, Astolfo is of no help at all.
Medoro also appears on the island, near death after a shipwreck. Alcina revives him and brings Medoro and Angelica together. This provokes Orlando's jealousy, but before he can lose his cool, Alcina calms him down with her magic. Angelica pitches in by pretending that she's in love with Orlando, making Medoro jealous in the process.
We also meet a female Christian warrior named Bradamante. She's on the lookout for her own lover, a pagan knight named Ruggiero. Bradamante has brought a magic ring to ward off Alcina's many enchantments. Eventually, Ruggiero does arrive on the island. He's been lured by Alcina, and shows up riding on a mythical flying creature called a hippogriff.
Alcina takes a liking to Ruggiero and quickly seduces him with a love potion. So when Bradamante and Ruggiero are reunited, Ruggiero doesn't even recognize her — and instead sings a fervent aria directed to Alcina. Bradamante is despondent, and Alcina is left to exult over her latest conquest.
At the start of ACT TWO, Bradamante has made some progress. First, she gets help from Astolfo. He's so enraged about the way Alcina has been toying with him that that he takes Bradamante's side.
Then, Bradamante uses the magic ring she brought with her to break Alcina's hold on Ruggiero. But it's not quite that easy: Ruggiero is overjoyed to be free of Alcina's spell, but Bradamante is still upset by his betrayal, and she's not quite ready to take him back.
Orlando is still after Angelica, but with Alcina's help, he's sent off on a wild goose chase. Angelica persuades him to climb an enchanted cliff, searching for a magical elixir, and Orlando is trapped in a mysterious cavern.
Meanwhile, Bradamante and Ruggiero finally kiss and make up, while Angelica and Medoro hold a lavish wedding celebration. Afterward, the newlyweds carve their marriage vows into the bark of a tree. Alcina protects both the couples, but she's also jealous of their happiness.
After the lovers retire, Orlando finds his way out of the cave. When he sees the carvings on the tree, he knows he has lost Angelica — and he begins to go mad.
As ACT THREE begins, Orlando has been missing for so long that Ruggiero, Bradamante and Astolfo all think he must be dead. So they set off looking for Alcina, to get even with her.
They find Alcina standing before a steel wall that protects a great temple. Inside the temple is the source of Alcina's power: an urn containing the ashes of the sorcerer Merlin. Alcina tries a few spells on the visitors. Bradamante's magic ring overcomes the spells, but Alcina still manages to breach the wall and reach the temple gates.
At that point, Orlando turns up again, and now he's crazier than ever. The others, including Alcina, are distracted by Orlando's disturbing reappearance, and they ponder the destructive power of jealousy.
Meanwhile, Orlando makes his way into the temple and finds an ornate statue of Merlin. In his madness, he mistakes it for Angelica and grabs the statue passionately, moving it from its base. At that, all of Alcina's powers are broken, the temple collapses, and her lush island is transformed into a barren desert.
Alcina promptly flees, swearing revenge. In the commotion, Orlando regains his senses. He makes his peace with Angelica and blesses her marriage to Medoro, while everyone praises the virtues of faithful love.