Orlando (opera)

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Orlando (HWV 31) is an opera seria in three acts by George Frideric Handel written for the second Royal Academy of Music. The Italian-language libretto was adapted from Carlo Sigismondo Capece's L'Orlando after Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, which was also the source of Handel's operas Alcina and Ariodante.

Performance history[edit]

The opera was first given at the King's Theatre in London on 27 January 1733. There were 10 performances and it was not revived. The first modern production was at the Unicorn Theatre, Abingdon, on 6 May 1959. A further production staged by the Barber Institute in Birmingham in 1966, conducted by Anthony Lewis, with Janet Baker in the title role, brought the opera back to London for the first time in over two centuries with performances later the same year at Sadler's Wells. The United States premiere of the opera was presented by the Handel Society of New York (HSNY) in a concert version on 18 January 1971 at Carnegie Hall. Stephen Simon conducted the performance with Rosalind Elias in the title role, Camilla Williams as Angelica, Betty Allen as Medoro, Carole Bogard as Dorinda, and Justino Díaz as Zoroastro.[1] The HSNY had made the first recording of the opera in 1970 in Vienna with a mostly different cast for RCA Red Seal Records. Peter Sellars directed the first staged production of the work in the United States at the American Repertory Theater on 19 December 1981. Countertenor Jeffrey Gall sang the title role and Craig Smith conducted.[2]

London's Royal Opera House revived their 2003 production of the opera in February and March 2007 with Bejun Mehta again in the title role. The company's magazine, About the House, described Orlando's mad scene as "one of the most remarkable pieces of writing in Handel's output." The role of Angelica was sung by Rosemary Joshua and that of Dorinda by Camilla Tilling. The conductor was Sir Charles Mackerras and the director was Francisco Negrin.[citation needed]


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 27 January 1733
Orlando, a knight alto castrato Senesino
Angelica, Queen of Cathay soprano Anna Maria Strada del Pò
Medoro, an African prince contralto Francesca Bertolli
Dorinda, a shepherdess soprano Celeste Gismondi
Zoroastro, a magician bass Antonio Montagnana

The role of Orlando, originally written for Senesino, the great alto castrato, is nowadays generally performed by a countertenor or a mezzo-soprano. The role of Medoro was originally written for a female alto (or mezzo-soprano), and this voice is usually retained in modern performances. The characters of Dorinda and Angelica are performed by sopranos, and Zoroastro by a bass.


Orlando (Roland), a great soldier in Charlemagne's army, falls desperately in love with the pagan princess Angelica, who is in turn in love with another man, Medoro. Orlando cannot accept this and he is driven to madness, prevented from causing absolute carnage only by the magician Zoroastro (who eventually restores his sanity).