Orlando (premiere 1733) by George Frideric Handel

orlando700Photo credit: Tina Fineberg for The New York Times

ORLANDO by George Frideric Handel (premiere 1733) is the latest opera/gallery installation from the young visionary director R. B. Schlather.

When & where
April 8—27, 2015
Whitebox, 329 Broome Street
New York

Musical and staging rehearsals
Open Rehearsals | April 8-13, 15-17, 19-23
General Rehearsal | April 24
Free and open to the public 12—7pm
Theatric presentations
April 26 & April 27, 2015 @ 7pm
With live orchestra and projected English titles

Following last year's critically acclaimed installation of Alcina, R. B. Schlather returns to Whitebox with his unique approach to opera performance and visible rehearsal process, bringing opera away from the stage and into the storefront. There will be three weeks of open & free rehearsals; passers-by encouraged to drop in. All rehearsals and performances streamed live online and broadcast on TV in the gallery's front window.
The cast
Hadleigh Adams baritone (Zoroastro)
Kiera Duffy soprano (Angelica)
Brennan Hall countertenor (Medoro)
Anya Matanovic soprano (Dorinda)
Drew Minter countertenor (Orlando)
The production
Geoffrey McDonald music director
R. B. Schlather stage director
Terese Wadden costume
Paul Tate DePoo scenography
JAX Messenger lighting design
Steven Jude Tietjen titles
R. B. Schlather's Orlando is the second in his trilogy of Handel operas that connect his passions for site-specific staging, baroque opera, and performance art. The trilogy is comprised of the three operas composed by George Frideric HandelAlcina, Orlando, and Ariodante—based on Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso. Orlando is about a chivalric knight who loses himself in an obsessive, unrequited love for a princess, and the violence that erupts out of his suffering. The trilogy concludes at Whitebox in late 2015 with Ariodante.

From The New York Times on April 27, 2015, the following review, titled Handel’s ‘Orlando,’ the Second Part of a Trilogy was written by Zachary Woolfe:

R. B. Schlather’s production of Handel’s "Orlando” opened on Sunday for a two-evening run, but the performance really started almost three weeks ago.

A vital part of Mr. Schlather’s project at the Whitebox Art Center on the Lower East Side, in this “Orlando” and Handel’s “Alcina” last September, is demystifying opera and its creation. Broadcasting practically all his rehearsals over the Internet, Mr. Schlather also opened them to the public, and the public came. Yoko Ono was among those who wandered in off Broome Street over the past few weeks to watch a bit of “Orlando,” Handel’s glorious 1733 tragicomedy of competing loves.

As the Hebrew goes, “dayenu”: The open rehearsals would have been enough. But the final product was so winning — as touching and delightful as the very touching and delightful “Alcina,” if not more so — that it redoubled the gift Mr. Schlather has given the New York cultural scene.

Whitebox is a shoe box. “Alcina” was set up with the main playing area opposite the entrance, at the narrow end. “Orlando” shifts our perspective 90 degrees, extending a thin raised platform along the entire length of the space.

The only piece of furniture is a wooden bench divided into five seats, like those on New York City subway platforms. The costumes are clothes of the 1970s, a time in the subway system when no one would have batted an eye to see, as here, a fur-wearing socialite; a disturbed gentleman in pajamas and trench coat; a muscular stud in head-to-toe skintight leather; and an interracial couple, all in various states of undress, coitus and rage.

While the emotions in “Orlando” are extreme, they also change on a dime, from joy to despair and back again. Few directors are as responsive as Mr. Schlather to Handel’s disorienting swerves of feeling.

In charting these stormy waters, he has been aided by an agile conductor, Geoffrey McDonald, whose pacing is sure in both reflective and restless passages, and a sensitive, daring cast fully committed to the hapless characters. Two sopranos — the light-toned yet fascinatingly unsettled Kiera Duffy (Angelica) and the darker-hued, dazzling Anya Matanovic (Dorinda) — compete for the affections of Prince Medoro, sung with exquisite control by the countertenor Brennan Hall.

His voice frayed but showing some of its old velvet, the veteran countertenor Drew Minter was movingly melancholy (rather than manic) as the mad Orlando. Overseeing all is the magician Zoroastro, sung by Hadleigh Adams with a dense yet flexible bass and a glowering presence, whether in the aforementioned leather, a pair of white briefs or a Santa Claus costume.

As in “Alcina,” Mr. Schlather’s design team unstintingly supported his vision. Paul Tate dePoo’s stylized subway was elegant and effective. The lighting designer JAX Messenger drew a host of moods out of a strictly limited range of elements. Terese Wadden’s acute ’70s costumes never descended into parody.

Mr. Schlather is already mulling “Ariodante,” to complete the trilogy of operas Handel based on Ludovico Ariosto’s epic “Orlando Furioso.” I, for one, can’t wait.

R. B. Schlather:
“My ambition for this baroque trilogy is to break down institutional and economic barriers to opera, removing the hierarchy of proscenium stage, orchestra pit, and auditorium. Just as NYCO was dissolving, I went to an art party at Whitebox, where I was struck by the energy and architecture of the space. It facilitates a flow from interior out onto the street and back in again. It’s loose, social, and sexy, and I thought how great it would be to have an opera up against such a flow. The location of these operas in an alternative venue allows us to defetishize performance as an end product, and refocus the event to the temporal viewing of artists’ process.

"I think of the entirety of the Orlando exhibition as a durational performance where the installation of our preparation in the space can be visited for as long (or little) as the viewer wants over the three weeks, accessing my approach to theatricalizing a musical score from first rehearsal to presentation with small orchestra and projected English titles.”

R. B. Schlather is an American opera director based in New York City. Recent directing credits include Norma at Gran Theatre del Liceu, Barcelona; Alcina at Whitebox Art Center WhiteboxLab > SoundLounge; Lizzie Borden at Tanglewood Music Festival; Werther at Opera Company of Brooklyn; Treemonisha for New York City Opera Education; Some Call Refuge at Vaudeville Park; The Arianna Project for lauded early music group Musica Nuova; a concert with Nico Muhly and Gotham Chamber Opera at multimedia art cabaret (le) Poisson Rouge; and I. Were., a pastiche created with countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and dramaturg Joe Cermatori for the Salon/Sanctuary Concerts.

Schlather has upcoming engagements directing Orlando at Whitebox Art Center, continuing his experimental Handel – Ariosto series called in the New York Times “a valuable project that deserves enthusiastic support.” He makes his American company debut directing a site-specific production of Philip Glass’ In The Penal Colony for Boston Lyric Opera in 2015.

Schlather regularly collaborates with Christopher Alden, most recently on Cosi fan Tutte with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Maestro Gustavo Dudamel; Lizzie Borden at Boston Lyric Opera and Tanglewood Music Festival; and Die Fledermaus at English National Opera. He previously assisted Alden at New York City Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Portland Opera, Gotham Chamber Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, and Glimmerglass Opera.