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The Story of 'Orlando Furioso'

The Amsterdam performance of Haydn's opera features tenor Marcel Reijans in the title role.
The Amsterdam performance of Haydn's opera features tenor Marcel Reijans in the title role.
Soprano Henriette Bonde-Hansen plays Angelica, the woman who drives Orlando crazy, in the performance from Amsterdam.
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Soprano Henriette Bonde-Hansen plays Angelica, the woman who drives Orlando crazy, in the performance from Amsterdam.

After a lively overture, as ACT ONE gets started, a pretty young shepherdess named Eurilla is warned that the warrior Rodomonte is approaching. Calling himself the Ruler of Barbaria, Rodomonte says he's trying to protect the lovely Lady Angelica, who is fleeing from a madman. The lunatic in question is the warrior knight Orlando. He's in love with Angelica, but she prefers another fellow, Medoro, and Orlando has been driven insane by passion and jealousy.

Angelica and Medoro both worry that Orlando will do them harm, and that seems a reasonable concern. Orlando is clearly nuts, and Medoro doesn't seem the type to stand up to a crazy knight who's armed to the teeth. Angelica does have Rodomonte watching her back, and she's comforted to learn that a powerful witch, Alcina, is also on her side.

Meanwhile, we meet Orlando's squire, Pasquale. He's getting tired of his master's frenzied search for Angelica. When he falls behind, he meets Eurilla, the shepherdess. At first, she thinks Pasquale is kind of pathetic. But he is amusing, and before long, the sparks fly.

Eventually, all the characters meet up in a garden. Orlando is obviously disturbed, so the others approach him with caution, saying, "When dealing with a madman, one must proceed carefully." But when it seems Orlando is ready to wreak havoc with his sword, Alcina steps in with her magic and stops him in his tracks.

As ACT TWO begins, Eurilla breaks up a confrontation between Orlando and Rodomonte. The lovers Angelica and Medoro have been separated, and each fears that the other has been hurt, or even killed. Eurilla tries to comfort Medoro, and then runs into Pasquale for a lascivious duet.

Angelica is so distraught at losing Medoro that she thinks about killing herself. But Alcina assures us that when Angelica seeks death, she'll actually find love.

As the act winds down, Orlando's insanity has gotten the better of him, and he again seems poised to do the others harm. But the watchful Alcina intervenes, and promptly turns him to stone.

In ACT THREE, with help from Alcina, Orlando finds himself on the banks of the river Lethe, leading to the underworld, where he encounters the boatman, Caronte. Alcina observes the scene, then orders Caronte to bathe Orlando in the river's magical waters. This, she's believes, will rid him of the madness brought on by his hopeless love for Angelica.

Meanwhile, Angelica is convinced that Medoro has been killed. In a spectacular aria, she decides to throw herself into the sea. But, as Alcina promised, Medoro returns unharmed, and the lovers are reunited.

But what about that crazy Orlando? The last time Angelica and Medoro saw him, he was still hunting them down, with fire in his eye and his sword at the ready. Alcina assures the two that everything will be fine — and she's right. It seems that her cure did the trick, and the now level-headed Orlando has headed off to battle.

When he returns, he's been victorious. And in the glow of victory, Orlando has forgotten all about his passion for Angelica. Actually, he doesn't even recognize her. As the opera ends, the brave knight Orlando is a hero again, instead of a madman.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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