Scottish Opera: Orlando - Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Wed 16 Feb
Tim Mead, Sally Silver and Claire Booth star in Harry Fehr's WWII adaptation of Handel's opera
In setting Handel’s Orlando in a 1940s London hospital, young director Harry Fehr has been completely ingenious. Taken from Orlando Furioso, the Italian Renaissance epic which inspired three Handel operas, the tale is of Orlando, the great soldier of Charlemagne’s army, who has returned from war, falls in love with Angelica, only to be rejected as she’s in love with someone else. This sets off a state of madness in Orlando, who, in Scottish Opera’s version, is a handsome pilot whose disturbing flashbacks to the war he has just been fighting can’t be a million miles away from the mental health problems of today’s service personnel returning from present day world war zones.
The cast is small, the five solo singers cleverly augmented by actors taking on various hospital white-coat type roles. Originally scheduled for three and a half hours, Fehr has cut the score back to three hours, which makes for a well balanced staging on a neat reversible set that holds the attention without a moment’s drop in concentration.
As Orlando, counter-tenor Tim Mead is outstanding. He has not only just the right voice for the role, but draws the audience directly to the core of his suffering and vulnerability, and ultimately into sharing the joy of his recovery. Hugely demanding vocally, Angelica is impressively sung by Sally Silver whose agile technique takes Handel’s leaping up and down the register in its stride. Likewise Claire Booth, whose tender Dorinda also brought a little tongue-in-cheek humour to her role as nurse.
Orlando, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Thursday 3 and Saturday 5 March.