This recording of Orlando (1733) was made after a mostly Canadian production at the Vancouver Early Music Festival. Alexander Weimann’s pacing of the action, choice of tempi and shaping of orchestral ritornellos are frequently marvellous; it is a breath of fresh air to hear Zoroastro’s first aria, ‘Lascia Amor’, paced correctly according to Handel’s tempo marking of Allegro, mà non troppo (Nathan Berg’s articulation of his coloratura and calmly authoritative characterisation are spot-on). Likewise, Orlando’s ensuing ‘Non fu già men forte Alcide’ is truly an andante, allowing Owen Willetts to sing poetically rather than merely heroically, accompanied by elegantly swaying horns; the orchestra accompanies ‘Fammi combattere’ with subtler than usual shading. There is no resort to clumsy clattering and unbridled over-egging, not even when Orlando’s grip on sanity deteriorates in Act 2; the mad scene benefits from allowing the musical irony to speak for itself.
Amanda Forsythe’s agile singing in Dorinda’s ‘O care parolette’ is so nonchalantly frothy that I can easily forgive the dubious use of organ continuo (which crops up from time to time throughout a performance that is otherwise exemplary for style and sense); her plaintively beautiful arioso ‘Quando spieghi i tuoi tormenti’ and siciliana ‘Se mi rivolgo al prato’ are alone worth buying this for. Angelica’s soliloquy ‘Verdi piante’ has the compelling atmosphere of hushed pastoral secrecy, albeit marred by Karina Gauvin’s tendency to transplant her last cadences up an octave. Forsythe’s inconsolable Dorinda is impeccable in the trio that closes Act 1 (‘Consolati, o bella, gentil pastorella’), but the potential subtext that the over-protesting Angelica and Medoro are more interested in singing a love duet to each other is glossed over because of the fleet-footed tempo (arguably ‘right’, but I prefer Christie’s ‘wrong’ languid pacing here); Medoro’s ‘Verdi allori’ is mildly undermined by Allyson McHardy’s meandering formulaic embellishments, and you can sense Berg endeavouring in vain to inject swifter momentum into Weimann’s stealthy approach to Zoroastro’s ‘Sorge infausta’. Recitatives lack emotional intensity when Act 3 reaches its crisis but nonetheless the afflicted title-hero’s sleep scene is blissfully cathartic. ATMA’s libretto omits imperative stage directions, such as the explanation of how Zoroastro restores Orlando to sanity, remorse and the path to glory. Rare misfires are only minor quibbles about one of the most consistently charming Handel opera recordings I’ve reviewed in ages.