The Knight Orlando, who is in love with the Princess Angelica, seeks for her with a great feel of jealousy. Angelica loves a looser, the Knight Medoro. There is also Rodomonte, the King of Barbary, who is always ready for a fight. So much for the heroic part of the drama! In between acts, Pasquale, Orlando’s funny but coward servant, a sort of Sancho Panza, directs the action hilariously in his unique manner.
Only Joseph Haydn, Spiritus Rector of “musical humor” could succeed in mounting this famous libretto in a sublime manner, all in all “operesque”!
During the preparation of this opera I ordered the books on which this opera is based on. When they arrived I immediately understood why the opera is as long as it is. Two books of one kilo each, describe the
lonely travels of one lover looking for an old one. The fact that Haydn has been able to write an opera about it is a miracle in itself.
However, we don´t live in the 16th century anymore. That century filled with knights, ladyships and witches. We live in a world where things have to be clear from the start. We want our wishes to be granted straight away and Haydn is an elaborate and enthusiastic storyteller. He challenges us to continue telling his story but luckily Michael Fendre has had the courage to delete some of the redundant passages, and a clearer story has surfaced. It is a story that is easily told in the 21st century. A knight follows the lover who left him for another. The knight finds his lover and is on the lookout for revenge on her and her new lad. Luckily, a fairy godmother uses her powers to help the lover, and change the course of events.
The result is manageable for everyone. The story is larded with yet another love story: one between the knight´s servant and the little shepherdess. And finally an angry knight is wandering throughout the story yelling the injustice that has been done to him. Are you still there? Three storylines mixed up, succeeding in creating complete chaos.
Often I raised my hands up into the air, or found them pulling the hair on my head. How on earth will I show it to the audience? Will I choose a traditional manner, or forward my own interpretation? While I was reading the heavy books and listening to Haydn´s music, an image of a group that rocked and shocked 20th century Europe came to mind. They had an original take on storylines just like the ones in Orlando Paladino: Britain´s Monty Python. Their absurd take connects seamlessly with the stories of the opera. And so we chose our own interpretation. It is up to us to make our own version; more playful and… absurd! With this dramaturgical red thread and inspired by the makers of Monty Python we started our search. Their outlook on life and the world matches our vision of Orlando Paladino. The humor in Orlando Paladino can be found in the quest and struggle for a love that seems to have already been lost. Imagine children playing in a playground: there may be some sort of agreement, but the children go in and out of character. They go out, because they don´t agree anymore, or want to comment, or they just don´t want to play anymore. They will stay on scene as mere supporters of the story. The point is losing yourself in a role/character and thoroughly enjoy being the bad guy, nerd, or princess. The performers act larger than life and believe it.
The stage consists of crates and boxes that can be used to build whatever world we are looking for. Once again, like we ourselves used to play as children. The costumes seem to be too big, and indeed they are, as children love dressing up in their (grand-)parent’s clothes. We awarded ourselves a place to let go of inhibitions, and dive into our imagination. We would therefore like to say to our audience: don´t worry about understanding the entire story, and simply enjoy our imaginative rendition.
Vincent van den Elshout, Stage director
1. Scene 1 - A mountainous landscape / Scene 2 - Angelica’s tower / Scene 3 - A wood / Scene 4 - A garden with a fountain / Scene 5 - A grove / Scene 6 - A delightful garden / Scene 1 - A grove / Scene 2 - A wide plain by the sea / Scene 3 - A room in the castle / Scene 4 - Alcina’s enchanted cave / Scene 1 - The Underworld, by the river Lethe, the Elysian Fields beyond / Scene 2 - A room in the castle / Scene 2 - A forest Scene 3 - A courtyard
Orlando Paladino: one of those operas with a dozen sceneries described in the libretto. How to build a mountainous landscape, a delightful garden, an enchanted cave, a forest and the underworld by the river Lethe when the means are limited and the show wants to travel the continent, to perform in theatres that are tiny as well as gigantic, equipped as well as empty? Ahh, we love challenges. Because the more constraints we get, the more we can use our imagination, and the more we can make you use yours. After all, that‘s what theatre should be all about.
The solution is an anti-set. Director Vincent van den Elshout wanted the show to start with an empty stage. The whole universe to unravel while the audience is watching. He wanted the singers to be actively involved in the changing, to be like children, building surroundings that express their fantasies. After Vincent said out loud ‚this makes me think of Monty Python‘, there was no way back. Children dressing up. With the shoes of grownups and clothes that aren‘t designed for their body. Tablecloths, a rope and a piece of cardboard - and off they go, to seek adventures around the couch and under the table. The silhouettes on stage are grotesque and recognizable. They have a comic aspect, but they are also touching in their roughness. This might be an opera, but our sweet Angelica is not embroidering flowers. She stitches the pieces of her dress back together after Pasquale ripped the train. Once over the top, tenderness kicks back in. The comforting idea that by wearing a crown you are a queen, that with a box over your chest you are a brave knight, as long as you believe it.
Thirty boxes in six different shapes. With a blue side for the Lethe river, the fountain and the sky. A green side for the wood, the grove, the forest. And grey sides for the tower, the castle and the enchanted cave. We can make staircases, furniture or trees. After the show, we pack the costumes and the props, the instruments and the light, we close the lids and ship the boxes to Orlando‘s next adventure. As a scenographer, I consider it my job to make a playground for the director and toys for the light designer. Eva Eleonore Beys and Alessandro Ranno have made magic realizing my designs. Vincent van den Elshout and Ace McCarron will make magic bringing the designs to life. One of those crazy adventures we‘ll never forget.
Emilie Lauwers, Set & costumes