This production of Antonio Vivaldi’s Orlando furioso in Martina Franca gave us an exact idea of what Baroque opera was for 18th-century audiences: a maze of magic, love and fabulous adventures, ingenious machinery and special effects.

<i>Orlando furioso</i> ath the Festival della Valle d’Itria © Paolo Conserva
Orlando furioso ath the Festival della Valle d’Itria
© Paolo Conserva

The story, which deals  with Orlando, Angelica and Medoro who meet on the enchanted island of the sorceress Alcina, is based on the celebrated poem by Ludovico Ariosto. At the centre of the plot, and of Fabio Ceresa’s staging, is Alcina, who has the magical power to seduce every man who sets foot in her island. The main characters, the lovely Angelica, her young lover, Medoro, and Orlando, Charlemagne's best paladin in love with Angelica, are entangled in a story of jealousy, passion, heroism and anguish.

In 1714, Vivaldi completed a previous score written by Giovanni Alberto Ristori to a libretto by Grazio Braccioli, and in 1727 composed entirely original music. The opera is crucial among Vivaldi's works, as it shows his full maturity as a composer, a perfect balance between musical beauties and gorgeous recitatives making up an outstanding dramatic and musical whole.

<i>Orlando furioso</i> ath the Festival della Valle d’Itria © Paolo Conserva
Orlando furioso ath the Festival della Valle d’Itria
© Paolo Conserva

Cerasa’s reading was strictly consistent with the idea we have of Baroque opera, a blend of bravery and entertainment, spectacular visual effects and impressive machinery, like the hippogriff who lands on the island, ridden by Ruggiero, and the gigantic guardian of Alcina’s place, Arontes: both figures were impressive presences creating disquieting impressions in the audience. Also scenes (by Massimo Checchetto), and costumes (by Giuseppe Palella) were in line with Baroque theatre, multi-coloured and spectacular as they were.

As for the singing cast, Orlando was the contralto Sonia Prina, who did very well, especially in Act 2 when the knight gets angry as he sees that Angelica and Medoro have married. Finding that he has been cheated on makes him go insane. A contralto with a rich timbre and an impressive low register, Prina’s voice produced all the gradations of someone passing through mental disorder, finally getting to the climax in the cavatina “Io ti getto elmo ed usbergo”. Also, in “Nel profondo, cieco mondo”, Prina displayed her ability to shift from a poised attitude to a furious and heroic one.

Sonia Prina (Orlando) © Paolo Conserva
Sonia Prina (Orlando)
© Paolo Conserva

Mezzo-soprano Lucia Cirillo acted and sang the role of Alcina persuasively. As her character in this opera has more arias than everyone else, Cirillo could display her flawless coloratura and virtuosity in ornamentation, for example in her final aria, “Anderó, chiameró dal profondo", where she showed a warm tone, a remarkable vocal technique and a self-confident stage presence. 

Michela Antenucci as Angelica could show her multi-faceted talent: from the bellicose aria in Act 1, “Un raggio di speme,” where she displayed her vocal nimbleness, to Act 2, where she has one of the work’s most stunning arias, “Chiara al pari di lucida stella” a love song for Medoro, which she sang beautifully.

Countertenor Luigi Schifano sang Ruggiero. Having fallen in love with Alcina, caught in her sorcery, he delivered perhaps the most beautiful and noteworthy aria we heard “Sol da te, mio dolce amore,” in which he sings his love for the sorceress, his delicate vocal ornamentations accompanied by Stefano Bet’s transverse flute.

<i>Orlando furioso</i> ath the Festival della Valle d’Itria © Paolo Conserva
Orlando furioso ath the Festival della Valle d’Itria
© Paolo Conserva

 

Bradamante was played with an excellent interpretation by the mezzo Loriana Castellano, whose intense and lithe voice delivered an excellent interpretation. Bass Riccardo Novaro made a fair impression as Astolfo, displaying self-control and style along with a warm voice. The dancers of Fattoria Vittadini and the chorus provided a robust performance, too.

On the musical side, Diego Fasolis created a sparkling, highly entertaining sound, directing from the harpsichord. Both singers and I Barocchisti gave a scintillating performance, full of rhythm and liveliness. Furthermore, a good number of the recitatives were cut, in order to make the opera more enjoyable for a modern audience.

****1