STONY BROOK, NY, March 7, 2013 – The Stony Brook Opera and the Stony Brook Baroque Players will present a fully-staged production of George Frideric Handel’s opera Orlando (1733) on the Main Stage of the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University. Two performances, complete with 18th century costumes and a 25-piece orchestra, are planned for Saturday April 13, 2013 at 8 pm, and Sunday April 14 at 3 pm. Although Handel is most famous today for such greatly beloved works as The Messiah and Water Music, during his lifetime he was the foremost composer of Italian opera. His marvelous operas dominated the Italian opera scene in London for more than 20 years.
The Stony Brook Opera cast consists of Doctoral students in Voice from the Stony Brook Music Department, many of whom have already established professional singing careers; a recent alumna, Ryu-Kyung Kim, will sing the title role of Orlando; and guest artist Douglas Williams, who is establishing a national reputation as one of the finest Baroque Opera bass singers, will perform the role of the magician Zoroastro.
Orlando, the titular protagonist, is a knight torn between glory and love. Zoroastro urges him to follow Mars, the god of war, but Orlando decides instead that glory can be gained through the pursuit of love. “Orlando is a rarely seen spectacle that should not be missed,” said Arthur Haas, Professor of Music at Stony Brook University and Director of the Stony Brook Baroque Players who will conduct the production. “It really has something for everyone.”
Haas noted that Orlando marked a real turning point in Handel’s operatic career as he was starting to lose favor with the opera-going public in London for two reasons: the oratorio was gaining in popularity because it was based on Biblical stories and it was in English – rival opera companies were taking away from Handel's public as well as from his pool of singers. “Handel wrote Orlando to seize back the momentum,” said Haas. “It worked gloriously and he was able to secure Senesino, one of the most famous castrati in London at that time, for the lead role. He also composed a work that the public would adore.”
Jason Priset playing the Theorbo, surrounded by harpsichord and organ in rehearsal for Handel's Orlando. Credit: Adiel Shmit
Professor Haas explained that Orlando contains a number of dramatic elements that have the ability to excite the public in the same way that a best-selling novel might nowadays. “We see a hero's struggle between immortal glory and a love interest that distracts him from his destiny. There are also several love triangles that open the door to deceptions between the characters, heartbroken lovers and vows of vengeance. There is even a mad scene in which the enraged, even deranged hero, breaks everything in sight and has visions of hell appearing before his eyes.”
Orlando also contains a fair bit of magic as Zoroastro saves the other major characters from Orlando’s rages with the hope of restoring the hero to his path of glory; and an eagle descends from heaven with a “potion” to help restore Orlando’s sanity.
“All this drama is brought together with some of the most beautiful vocal music that Handel ever wrote,” said Haas. “Arias, duos, a trio, all with virtuoso and poignant ornamented da capos, accompanied by a stylish orchestra consisting of strings, recorders, horns, harpsichords, Theorbos and Baroque harp.”
David Lawton, Professor of Music and Artistic Director of Stony Brook Opera, noted that they assembled a “wonderful production team” for this two-performance production consisting of Toronto-based stage director Guillaume Bernardi making his Stony Brook Opera debut as stage director; Camille Assaf returning as costume designer; Maruti Evans as set and lighting designer; and Grant McDonald making his Stony Brook debut as video designer.
“Our design team has come up with very exciting and innovative concepts for some of the production issues that this opera raises, especially the scenes that involve magic,” said Lawton. Guillaume Bernardi and the designers will bring magic scenes to life utilizing video projections; Grant McDonald plans to fold the projected titles into his projections; and Maruti Evans’ set design was inspired by the Orangerie of the Royal Palace of Versailles, the arches and columns of which present an ideal place for characters to enter and exit rapidly, or conceal themselves as needed. Camille Assaf’s elegant costume designs were inspired by the celebrated French painter François Boucher, a contemporary of Handel. “The audience will be treated to a gorgeous visual production,” said Lawton.
In the pit will be a Baroque orchestra of some 25 players, comprising of strings, recorders, oboes, bassoons and horns, and a large and varied continuo ensemble that will comprise several harpsichords, a small organ, Baroque Harp, Theorbo, and Baroque guitars. “The sound of this ensemble promises to match the splendor of the scenery and costumes,” said Lawton.
With Orlando, Long Island residents will have the opportunity to experience a professionally staged opera close to their doorsteps. In recent years, the extraordinarily beautiful and theatrical Baroque operas have come to be performed and enjoyed by audiences more and more frequently. Orlando will be known to local opera-goers from its immensely successful production at the New York City Opera in 2004-2005.
Tickets for Orlando are $20 general, $15 for students and senior citizens and are available at the Staller Center Box Office. There will be free pre-opera lectures by Carlo Lanfossi in the Recital Hall one hour before each performance. For tickets call (631) 632-ARTS or purchase online at www.stallercenter.com. For more information call the Department of Music at (631) 632-7330.