Love And Lunacy: Vivaldi's 'Orlando Furioso'

From The Parco Della Musica In Rome

THE HIT SINGLE

In the first act, Orlando (mezzo-soprano Romina Basso) introduces himself, and his budding madness, with the virtuoso aria "Nel profondo" — "Into the depths."

The B Side

Vivaldi's lyrical side is revealed in a lush aria that's really more of a duet for voice and flute. Countertenor Xavier Sabata, as Ruggiero, sings "Sol da te" — "Only from you."

WHO'S WHO?

  • Romina Basso ................ Orlando
  • Manuela Custer ............... Alcina
  • Sylva Pozzer ................. Angelica
  • Jordi Domench ............... Medoro
  • Xavier Sabata ............... Ruggiero
  • Lorenzo Regazzo ............. Astolfo
  • Anna Rita Gemmabella ... Bradamante
  • Venice Baroque Orchestra
  • Andrea Marcon, conductor
Romina Basso and Manuela Custer

Romina Basso (left) and Manuela Custer sing the roles of Orlando and Alcina in Orlando Furioso with the Venice Baroque Orchestra. Riccardo Musacchio/Flavio Ianniello hide caption

itoggle caption Riccardo Musacchio/Flavio Ianniello

If Antonio Vivaldi had composed Orlando Furioso a couple of centuries earlier, a certain poet might have gone looking for the nearest copyright lawyer.

There was a time when bestselling writers were among the hottest celebrities on the scene. But when the stories those writers created started turning up in more high-tech forms of entertainment, things began to change. Think of Gone with the Wind, for example. Are you thinking of a book, or a movie? Probably a movie: After all, the 1939 classic, starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, was one of the biggest Hollywood hits of all time, eventually overshadowing the Margaret Mitchell bestseller on which it was based. Mitchell surely did quite well with her book. But imagine what her cut would have been if everyone who has seen the movie had, instead, bought a copy of the novel.

Since then, plenty more bestselling books have wound up in the same boat. Mario Puzo's The Godfather and Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs come to mind, not to mention a whole string of James Bond books by Ian Fleming. It's no wonder that today's authors tend to drive a hard bargain before allowing their work to be used at the cineplex.

But writers had similar concerns long before movies came along. Consider what the 16th-century Italian writer Ludovico Ariosto might have hauled in had a certain, cutting-edge art form been invented just a few decades earlier.

In 1516, Ariosto came up with an epic poem called Orlando Furioso, filled with passion, violence, mystery and magic. It was an immediate hit, and it made Ariosto famous. But the poet died in 1533. So he wasn't around when, 60 years later, a group of inventive writers and musicians in Italy started joining forces to create opera, giving writers ever since another outlet for their work — and giving Ariosto's epic brand-new popularity it still enjoys today.

Ariosto's poem started inspiring operas in the 1620s, and dozens of composers have since climbed onto the Orlando bandwagon. Handel wrote three operas derived from Ariosto's masterpiece, starting with Orlando in 1733. In the next century, Rossini and Haydn also wrote Orlando-based operas.

Vivaldi's Orlando Furioso was premiered in 1727, in Venice. A literal translation of the title might be "Crazy Orlando," and that pretty much fits the bill. While the original epic presents a number of different stories and episodes, the opera deals with the poem's main plotline: It's about a knight called Orlando who falls in love with the wrong woman, and promptly loses his marbles. Vivaldi set the story to some of his finest music, in a score filled with dazzling arias and some of the most expressive recitatives found in any baroque opera.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents a concert performance of Vivaldi's drama by the Santa Cecilia Academy, at the Parco della Musica in Rome, with a standout performance by Romina Basso in the title role. Also featured is one of the world's finest period-instrument ensembles, the Venice Baroque Orchestra, led by Andrea Marcon.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive

The Story Of 'Orlando Furioso'

Andrea Marco and the Venice Baroque Orchestra

Conductor Andrea Marco (left) leads the Venice Baroque Orchestra in Vivaldi's opera, with bass Lorenzo Regazzo as Astolfo. Riccardo Musacchio/Flavio Ianniello hide caption

itoggle caption Riccardo Musacchio/Flavio Ianniello

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.

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