HAN­DEL, OF HO­BART

Or­lando makes a baroque cen­tre­piece to Leo Schofield’s mu­sic fes­ti­val in Tas­ma­nia, writes Matthew West­wood

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature -

HO­BART Baroque was in­au­gu­rated last year with a pro­duc­tion from the Royal Opera’s Linbury Stu­dio of a lit­tle-heard piece by Haydn, L’isola

dis­abi­tata. The opera was not strictly from the baroque pe­riod, hav­ing had its first per­for­mance in 1779. Still, there’s a his­tor­i­cal fris­son in the piece that is roughly con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous with Euro­pean set­tle­ment of Aus­tralia, al­though Tas­ma­nia was cer­tainly not the “un­in­hab­ited is­land” de­scribed in Haydn’s opera.

Leo Schofield’s mu­sic fes­ti­val was also oc­ca­sion to use Ho­bart’s Theatre Royal as a lit­tle opera house. The 1837 theatre, with its clas­sic horse­shoe shape and lovely dec­o­ra­tion, was ideally pro­por­tioned for Haydn’s cham­ber opera.

The sec­ond it­er­a­tion of Ho­bart Baroque brings to Tas­ma­nia an opera more firmly lo­cated in the baroque reper­toire, Han­del’s Or­lando of 1733. Schofield has again found a small-scale pro­duc­tion from an in­ter­na­tional opera house, suit­able for the Theatre Royal stage, and brought with it a young cast of for­eign singers.

The pro­duc­tion, di­rected by vet­eran Chas Rader-Shieber comes from the Glimmerglass Fes­ti­val in up­state New York, where it was first pre­sented in 2003. Glimmerglass is a sum­mer opera fes­ti­val — an Amer­i­can equiv­a­lent to Bri­tain’s Glyn­de­bourne — where sev­eral op­eras are staged dur­ing a two-month sea­son. The theatre is just out­side Coop­er­stown, home to the Na­tional Base­ball Hall of Fame. Co­in­ci­den­tally, Rader-Shieber’s brother, Tom Shieber, is di­rec­tor of the base­ball mu­seum.

“He’s a great opera fan, which I love,” RaderShieber says. Of base­ball he adds: “I do en­joy it; I don’t fol­low it. It’s a gen­tle­man’s sport when played prop­erly.”

Glimmerglass is a kind of op­er­atic idyll. “The grounds are beau­ti­ful, the stage is a good size, but the house feels very in­ti­mate,” he says. “It’s a won­der­ful place to work. Be­cause it’s a sum­mer fes­ti­val, you end up with sev­eral pro­duc­tions work­ing at the same time. The thing about these fes­ti­val opera com­pa­nies, that is beau­ti­fully dif­fer­ent from reper­tory houses, is that quick fam­i­lies are made.”

The di­rec­tor will be fa­mil­iar to some Aus­tralian opera-go­ers, es­pe­cially those who fol­low the work of an­other bou­tique com­pany, Syd­ney’s Pinchgut. Shieber di­rected that out­fit’s most re­cent ven­ture, Cavalli’s Gi­a­sone, and a 2008 pro­duc­tion of Char­p­en­tier’s David and

Jonathan.

His spe­cial­ity is baroque and early clas­si­cal op­eras, in­clud­ing no fewer than 15 by Han­del. A

MAGIC IS PART OF REAL LIFE IN THESE WORKS, BE­CAUSE IT IS AL­WAYS ABOUT PEOPLE, NOT TRICKS CHAS RADER-SHIEBER

char­ac­ter­is­tic of so many of these pieces is the da capo aria: a singer is given a melody (“A”), then a con­trast­ing sec­tion (“B”), and re­turns to the “A” sec­tion with elab­o­ra­tions and em­bel­lish­ments. Some lis­ten­ers find this rep­e­ti­tion te­dious in the ex­treme, but Rader-Shieber hears op­por­tu­nity for in­ven­tion within the for­mal con­straints of da capo. In­deed, he speaks of the da capo aria as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of opera’s larger scheme: a for­mal de­sign that can ac­com­mo­date in­fi­nite va­ri­ety.

“Struc­ture is so much at the cen­tre of baroque opera, and in Han­del struc­ture is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant,” he says on the phone from his home in Philadel­phia. “And this same­ness of the aria struc­ture — I don’t mean it in a pe­jo­ra­tive way — en­cour­ages you to push and pull and twist, and to think about how to en­liven that form, again and again and again.”

The story of Or­lando can be briefly sum­marised: the Chris­tian knight Or­lando has fallen in love with the ex­otic queen of Cathay, An­gel­ica, but she is in love with an African prince, Me­doro. A shepherd girl, Dorinda, is also in love with Me­doro, thus set­ting the scene for lovelorn melan­choly and, in Or­lando’s case, jeal­ousy and mad­ness. At the cli­max of his break­down — he has a “mad scene” at the end of Act II — he is swept away by the ma­gi­cian Zoroas­tro, who re­stores Or­lando’s san­ity and his right­ful vo­ca­tion as a war­rior knight.

Or­lando’s mad scene is not like that of Lu­cia in Lu­cia di Lam­mer­moor, to whom Donizetti gives an ex­tended col­oratura show­stop­per: a song­bird go­ing spec­tac­u­larly off her tree. By Han­delian stan­dards, Or­lando’s men­tal col­lapse is rel­a­tively brief but in­tense, a mu­si­cal mad­ness of dif­fer­ent rhyth­mic forms and time sig­na­tures. “We are talk­ing about some­body who is mov­ing into mad­ness from the mo­ment we meet him,” Rader-Shieber says. “Or­lando goes mad be­cause he isn’t on the right track: the opera is about find­ing one’s true self, one’s true na­ture. We fol­low this won­der­ful young man who is born to be a great war­rior, but what he wants more than any­thing is to be a great lover. It drives him crazy.” Rader-Shieber and de­signer David Zinn have set the opera in an en­chanted for­est, in which Dorinda tends to the truly wounded and the sick-at-heart. The di­rec­tor has also in­tro­duced the fig­ure of Amor, a non-singing cu­pid to be played by a Ho­bart boy.

Or­lando is one of those magic op­eras, so beloved of 18th-century au­di­ences, that are filled with spe­cial ef­fects. Zoroas­tro the sorcerer has power to sum­mon sud­den changes of scene, and com­mands Jupiter’s ea­gle to deliver a po­tion to heal Or­lando’s mad­ness. Rader-Shieber does not re­veal what trans­for­ma­tions may de­light au­di­ences in Ho­bart; but he re­gards the magic in baroque opera as a metaphor for the in­ner life of the char­ac­ters, not merely an ex­cuse for the­atri­cal shock and awe. “In gen­eral, Han­delian spec­ta­cle is in­ti­mate spec­ta­cle,” he says.

“There is some­thing very beau­ti­ful about that idea. I love fire­works and big spec­tac­u­lars, but it’s not what I make very much … The magic comes out of hu­man­ness; it is used to de­scribe emo­tion. Zoroas­tro is a men­tor who uses magic to ed­u­cate, some­times painfully. But magic is part of real life in these works, be­cause it is al­ways about people, not about tricks.”

The sea­son of Or­lando for Ho­bart Baroque will show­case young Amer­i­can singers: coun­tertenors Ran­dall Scot­ting (Or­lando) and Daniel Bubeck (Me­doro); so­pra­nos Kathryn Lewek (An­gel­ica) and Anna David­son (Dorinda); and bass-bari­tone Tom Corbeil (Zoroas­tro). Erin Hel­yard will con­duct the Orches­tra of the An­tipodes for the four per­for­mances.

Schofield has pro­grammed a nine-day show­case of lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional artists, in­clud­ing Rus­sian col­oratura so­prano Ju­lia Lezh­neva (ap­pear­ing with the Tas­ma­nian Sym­phony Orches­tra), Span­ish coun­tertenor Xavier Sa­bata per­form­ing arias from his al­bum of baroque vil­lains, Bad Guys, and the Aus­tralian Cham­ber Orches­tra’s Timo-Veikko Valve, play­ing Bach cello suites.

Rader-Shieber says the Ho­bart sea­son of Or­lando has given him a chance to re­visit a beau­ti­ful pro­duc­tion, which he has also staged in a much big­ger theatre for New York City Opera. “To have a pro­duc­tion that I love, and to have ideas that I still be­lieve in, but with a whole new cast and a vari­a­tion on the orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion, is tremen­dously en­liven­ing,” he says.

“In­cum­bent upon the stage di­rec­tor is to guide the ship, and have all these singers on board. Hope­fully we are all go­ing on the same fab­u­lous is­land va­ca­tion.”

Ho­bart Baroque, March 28-April 5.

Main pic­ture, di­rec­tor Chas Rader-Shieber with per­form­ers Anna David­son, left, and Kathryn Lewek re­hears­ing Han­del’s opera Or­lando for Ho­bart Baroque last week; scene from the orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion at the Glimmerglass Fes­ti­val in New York in 2003

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