For all their convoluted royal romances and hocus pocus, the essence of most Handel opera plotlines is basic – to do with people and their foibles. Whether these come over as vapid or profound is largely up to the production. In this intelligent second-world-war take on Orlando for Scottish Opera, Harry Fehr has created a moving and provocative human drama, centered around a captivating performance from countertenor Tim Mead.

Orlando is a star RAF pilot admitted to a private west London hospital. Zoroastro is Orlando's psychiatrist, treating what first seems to be mild shell shock but turns out to be a destructive tug-of-war between patriotic duty and infatuation with Angelica, an American socialite. Parallels with Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson are laid on thick in photo projections (and look opportunistic, given the current success of a certain film), but the war setting gives urgency to the characters' desperation for love and their general neurosis. Orlando's mad scene is a powerful piece of theatre, set to a backdrop of the blitz and Zoroastro's arrogant faith in his psychiatric methods.

A hospital set can be drab, but Yannis Thavoris's designs add just enough period detail to keep things stylish. Anyway, Mead's Orlando needs little decoration: his voice is in gorgeous, expressive form, and his acting is utterly convincing. Claire Booth's easy, ebullient soprano problematically makes the nurse Dorinda more endearing than Sally Silver's matronly Angelica, whose singing is heavier than the otherwise first-rate cast. Conductor Paul Goodwin has deftly turned Scottish Opera's orchestra into a credible baroque band: it seems things are decidedly back on track for this company.

Contributor

Kate Molleson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Rodelinda – review

Scottish Opera's ambitious take on Handel's court drama is saved by some industrious musicianship and graceful singing, writes Kate Molleson

Kate Molleson

02, Oct, 2013 @4:36 PM

Werther – review

Scottish Opera's try-hard new production is redeemed by the fine vocal performances, writes Kate Molleson

Kate Molleson

18, Feb, 2013 @5:25 PM

Intermezzo – review
Strauss's already sketchy opera needs the orchestra to be on form. It wasn't, says Kate Molleson

Kate Molleson

28, Mar, 2011 @9:30 PM

Article image
Don Giovanni – review

George Hall: Scottish Opera's take on Mozart's serial seducer has fine individual performances in a handsome period setting

George Hall

16, Oct, 2013 @3:43 PM

Article image
Don Pasquale – review
Set in 1960s Rome, this Don Pasquale is full of frills, but its cartoonish characters lack nuance, writes Kate Molleson

Kate Molleson

26, Jan, 2014 @1:10 PM

Article image
The Magic Flute – review

Steampunk Victoriana and some clever conceits give this Scottish Opera production endearing wit and charm, writes Kate Molleson

Kate Molleson

18, Oct, 2012 @10:49 AM

Article image
Hansel and Gretel - review
This is Hansel and Gretel for the very faint-hearted, writes Kate Molleson

Kate Molleson

06, Feb, 2012 @6:05 PM

Article image
Betrothal in a Monastery –review
Star-crossed lovers, swapped identities, nocturnal elopements, a baddy buffo daddy … but by far the most interesting thing about Betrothal in a Monastery is Prokofiev's score, writes Kate Molleson

Kate Molleson

23, Jan, 2012 @6:50 PM

Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci – review
Francesco Corti conducted with a mix of default mode and affectionate insight, and it made for patchy listening, writes Kate Molleson

Kate Molleson

06, Jun, 2012 @5:31 PM

A Midsummer Night's Dream – review

This student-professional collaboration is no midsummer reverie, but a chilly labyrinth of troubled dreams and murky intents, writes Kate Molleson

Kate Molleson

27, Jan, 2013 @5:18 PM