October 18, 2007
Neuköllner Oper

"Vor allem macht's Spaß!"

Refreshing Händel's Orlando at the Neuköllner Oper


Georg Friedrich Händel
new version by Wolfgang Böhmer (music) and Rainer Holzapfel (text)

Luciano Berio
Sequenza XIII, Chanson
Heinz Holliger
Sequenzen über Johannes I,32 für Harfe


Neuköllner Oper
Music director: Hans-Peter Kirchberg
Director: Rainer Holzapfel
Staging: Lisa Brzonkalla

Dorinda: Cassandra Hoffman
Orlando: Susanne Langner
Angelica: Eva Scheider
Zoroastro: Andreas Sommerfeld
Medoro: Christophe Villa

Accordion: Timofej Sattarov
Harpsichord: Robert Nassmacher
Spinettino: Andreas Sommerfeld
Honky Tonk Piano: Christophe Villa
Toy Piano: Cassandra Hoffman
Harp: Giselle Boeters
Harmonium: Winfried Radeke
Piano 1: Hans-Peter Kirchberg
Piano 2, Harmonium, Organ: Winfried Radeke
Piano 3: Susanne Langner, Eva Scheider

Leserbrief/readers comment Druckversion/printversion

"Vor allem macht's Spaß!"

Refreshing Händel's Orlando at the Neuköllner Oper

by Nancy Chapple / Photos: Matthias Heyde

Orlando: zum Vergrößern klicken / click to enlarge

Over the past two decades, Georg Friedrich Händel's operas have been re-discovered and staged in a range of imaginative ways. Musicologists often agree: the vocal writing is beautiful, accessible melodies are abundant, yet the opera theater conventions of the early 1700's no longer feel timely.

The Neuköllner Oper, one of several "off" opera houses that Berlin's music lovers do well to take seriously, has produced a version of Händel's Orlando (1733) that never ceases to entertain. Wolfgang Böhmer and Rainer Holzapfel have created a completely new text using the opera's five roles and a streamlined musical score in which the da capo arias are often interwoven, or the recitative omitted completely. Händel's original libretto was in Italian; this version is sung in an easily comprehensible, colloquial modern German. The singers are excellent, the musical arrangement for a range of keyboard instruments effective.

Orlando: zum Vergrößern klicken / click to enlarge

Studying the synopsis of Orlando before attending a performance - "our hero Orlando is a soldier in a battle between desire and duty" - won't help in understanding what one sees on the Neuköllner Oper stage. Here we have a family drama - papa, maid, two brothers and their female cousin - where sex and lewdness bubble beneath the surface in every encounter; pa lusts after the maid, the maid after the naïve brother; the young folk alternate trying to get in each other's pants, spurning untoward advances, and emotionally withdrawing when they don't get what they want. And poor confused Orlando is a boy who likes to wear dresses, frightening off his flirtatious cousin but disregarded by the adults in the house.

The score is performed by piano, harmonium, cembalo, honky tonk piano, toy piano, harp and accordion. The overture is played by the complete ensemble, including the five singers, forming part of the group of musicians. For instance, the woman playing one-handed, tinkly toy piano has her back towards the audience, and is only later revealed to be Dorinda. The singers and instrumentalists share the stage rather than the latter being hidden in an orchestra pit, and this feels right. The most extended solo instrumental passages are in harp and accordion, as their timbre cuts through the general keyboard sound. Particularly impressive: the musically gifted Timofej Sattarov on accordion. Tastefully and convincingly pasted into the evening are short pieces by Luciano Berio (accordion) and Heinz Holliger (harp) that serve as mood-creating interludes as the stage is re-set.

Orlando: zum Vergrößern klicken / click to enlarge

Visually, we first feel we've stumbled into 1950's West Germany, with brown-on-brown flowered wallpaper and a large collection of singularly ugly light fixtures. The set is simple: the action takes place at a dining table, on a couch and on a bed, placed among the manifold keyboard instruments.

The most astounding acting and singing were proffered by Susanne Langner as Orlando - a perfect sulky, confused, vulnerable adolescent boy or rather girl? And Cassandra Hoffman as Dorinda, who stars in a brilliantly staged sex scene, binding her young charge to his bed and practically raping him, singing triumphal coloraturas upon achieving orgasm. The exaggeratedly shy yet curious gestures of Medoro were also an audience favorite.

All around, a delightful evening: "Vor allem macht's Spaß!" ("Above all, it's amusing!")