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Jealous Lust Drives Hunk Warrior Orlando to Madness

Sophie Karthauser and Bejun Mehta
Sophie Karthauser (Angelica) is watched by Bejun Mehta (Orlando) in Handel's opera. She rebuff's the lovestruck warrior's advances in the Baroque work at La Monnaie/De Munt through May 11. Photographer: Bernd Uhlig/La Monnaie/De Munt via Bloomberg.

Bejun Mehta triumphs as the mad, love-torn hero of “Orlando” at La Monnaie/De Munt in Brussels.

The U.S. countertenor propels the new production of Handel’s 1732 work with his stirring interpretation of the epic warrior crazed by desire and jealousy. Mehta deftly navigates the rollercoaster airs in this daunting role.

An opera seria, “Orlando” consists of a succession of luscious -- though seemingly endless -- arias. There’s scant narrative structure, and the director, Pierre Audi, wisely opts to focus on the lead character’s inner torment.

“Better to serve love than to win victory!” declares Orlando when the magician Zoroastro (Konstantin Wolff) urges him to prize duty over desire. Orlando proceeds to whip himself into a fiery jealous rage over the haughty Angelica (Sophie Karthauser), who has fallen for Medoro (Kristina Hammarstrom), another battle-scarred hunk. He, in turn, has roused the attention of lonely Dorinda (Sunhae Im), and on it goes.

The roles are well cast. Karthauser has the proper bearing and the vocal power for her role, though I suspect she’d be more at ease in, say, Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte.” Hammarstrom has a fluid mezzosoprano voice, just right for this trouser role, though I would have appreciated a bit more swagger. Sunhae Im excelled in the florid Baroque curls and dips of the score.

Psychic Turmoil

A curved, gray wall provides a confining backdrop to the psychic turmoil taking place stagefront. A charred, smoking ruin of a house in the first act evolves into the light framework of a new home in the last, tracking the progression from torment to a happy end, engineered by deus ex machina Zoroastro.

Rene Jacobs elicits a lively sound, rich in ornate Baroque flourishes, from the period-instrument ensemble B’Rock, driven by a basso continuo rumbling like a tight soul rhythm section.

On off nights, the opera’s stage has been occupied by the house orchestra and chorus conducted with finesse by Evelino Pido in concert performances of another stormy drama about jealous revenge, Rossini’s “Otello” (1816).

The virtuoso soloists drew bravissimos from the audience with a festive demonstration of bel canto vocal prowess. Gregory Kunde was credible and moving in the lead role, his powerful, somber tenor conveying the character’s wrenching anguish. Anna Caterina Antonacci gave a subtle, emotionally acute performance as Desdemona, easily mastering the role’s challenging tessitura. Dmitry Korchak (Rodrigo) and Dario Schmunck (Iago) impressed.

Rating: ***.

“Orlando” runs through May 11 at La Monnaie/De Munt, Brussels. Information:

What the Stars Mean:
****              Outstanding
***               Good
**                Average
*                 Poor
(No stars)        Worthless

(Jim Ruane is an editor-at-large for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Today’s Muse highlights include: John Mariani on wine, Jeremy Gerard on theater.

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