1280x680_Oper_Konzertant_1516 © beyond/Mara Burmester


In his opera Orlando, written for the King’s Theatre on London’s Haymarket, George Frideric Handel turned to the story of the love-crazed knight from Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando furioso (1532). The knight Orlando, a man with experience of armed combat, is driven to madness when Angelica, the woman he loves, chooses the warrior Medoro instead. By conjuring up various illusions, the magician Zoroastro succeeds in freeing Orlando from his love delirium and setting him back on the path to reason. For this unusual libretto, Handel pulled out all the stops; not for nothing is Orlando regarded as one of his most imaginative scores. The Handel specialist Reinhard Strohm judged the title role, written for the star castrato Francesco Bernardi alias Senesino, to be “the only one that touches every emotion, tonal areas and singing style; he has to sing heroic, virtuoso, despairing and even meditative arias.” Of course, there is also a big madness scene, which harks back to the English tradition of “mad songs”. This role, though, marked the end of Senesino’s collaboration with Handel: the proud singer had fallen out with the irascible composer so badly that only weeks after the end of the run of performances he defected to the rival company, the so-called Opera of the Nobility