The Barber Opera: Orlando Generoso

The Barber Opera 2012, Barber Institute
Orlando Generoso by Agostino Steffani
Conducted by Colin Timms
Directed by Thomas Guthrie
Designed by Rhys Jarman
Lit by Rachael McCutcheon
Photography by Keith Trodd

“How to convey all the magical spectacle Hanover’s stage machinery would have provided in 1691? This was easily done in director Thomas Guthrie’s brilliant idea of setting the whole work within a silent movie context. The manipulative sorcerer became the director, and flickering film, cut-out monsters and all, created the background to each act. Suddenly the tiny Barber stage became a world of possibility.”

“It worked brilliantly”

Orlando – Michal Czerniawski
Angelica – Elizabeth Cragg
Bradamante – Louise Alder
Medoro – Catarina Sereno
Galafro – Louise Innes
Ruggiero – Marta Fontanals-Simmons
Atlante – Nicholas Merryweather
Brunello – Alexander Aldren
Melissa – Jennifer Harper

From the programme notes:

The films of Georges Méliès (1861-1938), magician and brilliant pioneer of film-making, have an experimental and charming naivety, but also a genius that enables them to get to the heart of a story. They are perfect little anecdotes of human endeavour. The audiences of the early twentieth century flocked to see them, and a glance at my children’s faces as we watched his classic Journey To The Moon, showed how they, too, were entranced, even in this age of 3D TVs. In one early film of the time (by the Lumiere brothers) you see people duck out of the way as a train comes towards the camera, only to laugh uproariously as they realise it’s not actually real. In another, by Melies himself, a composer makes notes out of his own head, flinging them up on to a stave high above him. A new kind of magic. And Melies worked in front of – as well as behind – the camera, acting as well as directing, in the studio he called his ‘enchanted palace’, which he built entirely out of glass to ‘make dreams come true’.
When later we were working on the score of Steffani’s Orlando Generoso, and wondering in what sort of a world it could sit convincingly and entertainingly – it was, after all, conceived to show off the stage machinery in the new theatre at Hanover where Steffani was court composer – I was reminded again and again of the Méliès films. Atlante, in Orlando Generoso, is a magician, and he refers many times to his enchanted palace and to imprisoning characters in it. He also plays tricks on them, and builds with his magic a world that can change at the flick of a wand, from the Pyrenees to a palace in exotic China. He is the Méliès of our story.
Re-imagining him as a pioneer of film I think can take us into a world with all the experimental magic and wit we want, but one that also honours the human interest in the piece. There is after all an almost ‘human experiment’ aspect to Orlando. In fact, despite its more extreme geographical twists and turns, it reminds me also a little of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Like the Shakespeare, it is full of magic, spells, confusions, love-blindness, characters coming in and out of themselves and of reality. And though Orlando of course is not Shakespeare, nevertheless in the way it examines its characters, and in the way the music so passionately explores the humanity of each situation, it captures many of the same confusions of human beings in love.
Atlante’s characters are in revolt. What is real and what is magic? When do the people in a story really come alive? And who is pulling the strings?

See below for an example of one of our Méliès style films – with no sound of course, as all the singing and playing was live. It includes the arrival of Atlante on a full size hippogriff, after Bradamante has defeated Brunello and taken the magic ring. See how Atlante wields his magic shield!