Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducts Haydn’s “Orlando paladino”

22 Mar 2009

Berliner Philharmoniker
Nikolaus Harnoncourt

  • Joseph Haydn
    Orlando Paladino, Dramma eroicomico, Hob. XXVIII:I (concert performance) (159 min.)

    Jane Archibald Angelica, Mojca Erdmann Eurilla, Michelle Breedt Alcina, Kurt Streit Orlando, James Taylor Medoro, Markus Schäfer Pasquale, Paul O’Neill Licone, Jonathan Lemalu Rodomonte, Markus Butter Caronte

  • free

    Nikolaus Harnoncourt on Haydn’s “Orlando Paladino” (17 min.)

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, one of the most influential and eminent musicians of the 20th and early 21st centuries, put nearly every ingrained conviction of music history to the test, including the widely held opinion that Joseph Haydn, the “father” of the symphony and string quartet, did not meet the same standards as an opera composer. Harnoncourt recorded Armida, Il mondo della luna and Orlando paladino and also conducted the latter work in a concert performance with an outstanding ensemble of soloists and the Berliner Philharmoniker in March 2009.

Harnoncourt called Orlando paladino a “totally mad, modern opera”. “The combination of pathos and irony, of real feelings and completely overwrought wooing, puffed-up heroism and cowardice is carried to extremes in Haydn’s inspired interpretation.” It is not surprising that the conductor ranked the opera among “the best there was in opera at that time”.

The story of Orlando paladino has its origins in Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando furioso, which first appeared in 1516 and inspired many operas during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Alcina who appears in Haydn’s work is also the heroine of an opera by Handel. In Haydn’s version she uses her magic powers to help the lovers Angelica and Medoro find happiness and escape the insanely jealous knight Orlando, who has threatened them with death. The buffo characters Eurilla and Pasquale provide humorous accents in the heroic-comic drama (dramma eroicomico). The ensemble of nine soloists is led by tenor Kurt Streit as Orlando, who appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in the title role of Schubert’s opera Alfonso und Estrella in 2005, also conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

For a special occasion

Joseph Haydn’s “dramma eroicomico” Orlando paladino

Haydn wrote his “dramma eroicomico” Orlando paladino (The Knight Roland) for a planned visit to Eszterháza by Grand Duke Paul Petrovich (later Tsar Paul I) and his wife Maria Fyodorovna, who in the early 1780s travelled through Europe incognito as “counts from the North” and who were expected to pass through Eszterháza in October 1782 on their way home from Italy.

Prince Nicolaus the Magnificent of Esterházy inevitably wanted his visitors to take away as splendid an impression as possible of his “fairy kingdom”, and so the preparations started several months in advance of the visit. Such lavish celebrations would normally last several days and would include an opera written by the court Kapellmeister to a libretto by the court poet. By this date, Joseph Haydn was famous throughout Europe and could be counted on to be a credit to his prince At the end of July 1782 we duly find him reporting on his work on his new opera in a letter to his publisher, Artaria, in Vienna: “As far as the sonatas for keyboard and violin are concerned, you will have to be patient for some considerable time as I now have to write an entirely new Italian opera inasmuch as the Grand Duke and his wife and perhaps also His Majesty the Emperor will be descending on us.”

In the event, the planned visit by the grand duke and his wife failed to materialize, with the result that the first night of Orlando paladino was postponed until Prince Nicolaus’s name-day on 6 December 1782. In writing the work Haydn explored all the opportunities open to him in Eszterháza. And these were by no means negligible. Quite the opposite, in fact. Since 1781 the Esterházy ensemble had included among its number two opera stars of the first magnitude: the soprano Metilde Bologna and the tenor Prospero Braghetti. There can be no question that it was they who took the leading roles in the new opera.

Once Prince Nicolaus had remodelled his little palace on the Neusiedlersee and turned it into a summer residence worthy of standing comparison with Versailles, the operatic fare in his theatre was dominated by works by Haydn, all of them staged to mark particular events such as weddings, name-days and visits from dignitaries such as the Empress Maria Theresa. By 1776 Nicolaus had established a regular repertory system based exclusively on comic operas by composers such as Pasquale Anfossi, Domenico Cimarosa, Giovanni Paisiello, Niccolò Piccinni and Antonio Salieri, all of whom were famous in their own day, while Haydn’s operas continued to be staged on special occasions. But it was not until 1783 that the first opera seria was performed in Eszterháza, bringing with it the most lavish type of opera at this time. In 1784 the season opened with Haydn’s opera seriaArmida, a piece of programming that can only have been deliberate. The engagement of such leading singers as Metilde Bologna and Prospero Braghetti had laid the foundations for this particular development.

It is clear from Orlando paladino that the introduction of opera seria to the Eszterháza repertory was not completely unexpected, for this work inhabits a world midway between opera buffa and opera seria, a position indicated by the somewhat unusual term “dramma eroicomico” adopted by its librettist Nunziato Porta, who also happened to be Metilde Bologna’s husband. Porta’s appointment at the Eszterháza court coincided with that of his wife, his function being to run the opera and oversee the theatre’s wardrobe department. In drawing up the libretto for Orlando paladino, he had recourse to an earlier text that Carlo Francesco Badini had prepared in 1771 for Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi’s Le pazzie d’Orlando and that Porta had first adapted in 1775. This adaptation was finally staged in Vienna in 1777, and five years later Porta reacquired the performing material for use at the Eszterháza court. In rewriting the text for Haydn, he made substantial changes to the version that had been seen in Vienna. The shield-bearer Pasquale acquired some new arias, Angelica’s arias were expanded, and Medoro’s part, too, assumed greater importance through the introduction of a new aria. The prince’s celebrated singers could display their virtuosity to the full.

The opera is held together less by a rigorously structured plot than by a sequence of contrasting scenes and by the comic nature of the situations in which the characters find themselves. Remarkably, the opera involves eleven different sets, the final change of scenery – the transformation of a room into a festively illuminated Temple of Venus – taking place in full view of the audience. Theatrical effects like this were extremely popular in the 18th century, and such a lavish staging must have been devised with an eye on the planned visit of the grand duke and his wife. The concept clearly worked, for there were more performances of Orlando paladino during Haydn’s lifetime than of any other opera by the composer.

The work was finally staged in St Petersburg in 1813, although Paul I, who had succeeded his mother, Catherine the Great, in 1796, did not live to see the performance: he had been assassinated in 1801.


The plot is based on Ludovico Ariosto’s 1516 epic Orlando furioso (Roland Enraged). In Haydn’s opera, Queen Angelica is in love with the handsome Saracen warrior Medoro, a love that is contrasted with the madness of the Frankish knight Orlando, whose unrequited love for Angelica drives him to distraction and persuades him to try to kill Angelica and Medoro. They are saved only by the magic of the sorceress Alcina and Charon (Caronte), the ferryman who conveys the dead in his boat across the River Styx. There are also two comic characters of a lower social class, Eurilla and Pasquale, who complement the action and reflect on it in their own particular way.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt was born in Berlin in 1929 but grew up in Austria. Even while he was still learning to play the cello, he had already developed an intense interest in performing practice – initially of early music – and in the importance of sonority in music-making. He founded the Concentus Musicus of Vienna in 1953, a specialist ensemble performing on period instruments or on replicas of such instruments. Under his direction, the ensemble has become a world-famous institution. Until 1969 Nikolaus Harnoncourt also played the cello with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Since the 1970s he has made more and more appearances as a conductor of traditional symphony orchestras and has also worked in the opera house, allowing him to expand his repertory to Viennese Classicism, Romanticism and, more recently, the 20th century. Between 1972 and 1992 he taught performing practice at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. His interest in the subject is also reflected in several books, including Musik als Klangrede. Among the numerous awards that Nikolaus Harnoncourt has received are the Stockholm Polar Prize, the 1997 Robert Schumann Prize, the 2002 Ernst von Siemens Music Prize and the 2005 Kyoto Prize, one of the highest awards in the fields of science and culture, which he received for a lifetime’s achievement in music. He has appeared frequently with the Berliner Philharmoniker since his debut in 1991 and in March 2000 received the orchestra’s Hans von Bülow Medal. His most recent appearances were in early April 2008, when he conducted performances of Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony.

Jane Archibald was born in Canada and studied at the Wilfrid Laurier University, the Orford Arts Centre and the Tanglewood Music Center. She made her United States debut in 2003 as Poppea in Handel’s Agrippina at the Chicago Opera Theater and two years later made her European debut as Konstanze in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail within the framework of the Antibes and Lacoste Summer Festivals. Her readiness to take over at the last minute from an ailing colleague and perform the part of Costanza in a staged production of Vivaldi’s Griselda with the Ensemble Matheus in Spain proved little short of a sensation. Jane Archibald has been a member of the Vienna State Opera ensemble since September 2006 and to date has been heard in the city as the Queen of Night in Die Zauberflöte, Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier, Olympia in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Musetta in La Bohème and the Italian Singer in Capriccio. Her repertory also includes the title roles in Lakmé, Alcina and Ibert’s Angélique as well as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro and Elvira in L’italiana in Algeri. Guest appearances have taken her to the Marseilles Opera, where she has sung Konstanze and Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, and to the Grand Théâtre de Genève, where her roles have included Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos and the Queen of Night. Jane Archibald is making her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in the present series of concerts.

Michelle Breedt initially studied at the University of Stellenbosch in her native South Africa and had already appeared professionally in Cape Town and Pretoria before she decided to continue her studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. Subsequent engagements took her to the Cologne Opera Studio and the Braunschweig State Theatre, where she worked closely with Brigitte Fassbaender as both director and mentor, an association that continues to the present day. Michelle Breedt now works as a freelance artist. Among the companies with whom she has appeared are the Vienna, Hamburg and Dresden State Operas, the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, the Opéra Bastille in Paris and the Zurich Opera. But she has also performed as far afield as China and Japan. Her repertory includes not only Mozart’s mezzo-soprano roles but also Carmen, Brangäne, Octavian and bel canto parts such as Adalgisa and Romeo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi. She made her Bayreuth Festival debt in 2000 as Magdalene in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Michelle Breedt is also much in demand as a concert singer and song recitalist, in which capacity she has appeared on frequent occasions at the Schubertiade in Schwarzenberg, at the Vienna Musikverein, in London’s Wigmore Hall and at the Salzburg Festival. Among the conductors with whom she has worked are Gerd Albrecht, Seiji Ozawa, Christian Thielemann and Franz Welser-Möst. Michelle Breedt is making her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Markus Butter hails from Austria. He gained his earliest musical experiences as a member of the Vienna Boys’ Choir, later studying at the Johann Joseph Fux Conservatory and the University of the Arts in Graz. He studied lieder with Fritz Schwinghammer at the Munich Academy of Music and also attended masterclasses with Walter Berry. From 2001 to 2005 he was a member of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, during which time he also appeared at the Ruhr Triennale and with the Staatsoper Unter den Linden. Since 2005 Markus Butter has been a permanent member of the Dresden State Opera. His repertory includes Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro, Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, Escamillo in Carmen, Wolfram von Eschenbach in Tannhäuser, Melot in Tristan und Isolde, Falke in Die Fledermaus, Ford in Falstaff, Marcello in La Bohème and the title role in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. In 2000 he appeared for the first time at both the Salzburg Festival and the Linz Bruckner Festival. As a concert soloist Markus Butter has appeared with the Munich Philharmonic, the Central German Radio Symphony Orchestra in Leipzig and the Israel Philharmonic, working with conductors of the eminence of Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Zubin Mehta, Wolfgang Sawallisch and Fabio Luisi. This is his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Mojca Erdmann was born in Hamburg and was still very young when she learnt to play the violin and sang in the Children’s Chorus at the city’s State Opera. On completing her schooling, she studied singing with Hans Sotin at the Academy of Music in Cologne. From 1997 to 2004 she was a member of the Komische Oper in Berlin, where she was heard in works by Mozart, Verdi, Strauss, Prokofiev, Britten and others. In 2002 she took part in the Federal Singing Competition and won first prize in the concert category and a special prize for contemporary music. She has been a regular visitor to international opera houses and has also appeared widely as a concert singer and song recitalist. In 2004 she took part in the world premiere of Takemitsu: My Way of Life at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin and also gave the first performances of Hölderlin settings by Aribert Reimann and Wolfgang Rihm at the AlpenKlassik Festival in Bad Reichenhall. In 2005 Mojca Erdmann was a prizewinner in the North German Radio Music Competition and the following year made her Salzburg Festival debut in the title role of Mozart’s Zaide. She first appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in September 2005, when she sang the shepherd boy Jano in concert performances of Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa. Her most recent appearance with the orchestra was in September 2008 in Ravel’s L’Enfant et les sortilèges, directed by Sir Simon Rattle.

Jonathan Lemalu was born in New Zealand. Although he began regular singing lessons in 1994, it was not until five years later that he enrolled at the Royal College of Music in London and started to study professionally. The previous year he had made his debut with New Zealand Opera as Colline in La Bohème. Subsequent roles with the company have included Bartolo in Le nozze di Figaro and Trulove in The Rake’s Progress. The winner of numerous international competitions, he received the Kathleen Ferrier Award in 2002 and was voted Young Artist of the Year by the Philharmonic Society of London. Jonathan Lemalu is equally in demand as an opera, concert and lieder singer and has appeared all over the world in a repertory extending from early music to the music of the 21st century. In 2003, for example, he took part in the world premiere of John Harbison’s Requiem with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Bernard Haitink, and in 2008 he appeared in the Japanese premiere of John Adams’s opera The Flowering Tree. Jonathan Lemalu made his Berliner Philharmoniker debut in early December 2003 in concert performances of Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust under the direction of Charles Dutoit.

Paul O’Neill was born in Melbourne. He studied singing at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in Perth and in 2004 and 2005 took part in the Young Artist Programme of the West Australian Opera in Perth. Among the roles that he has sung in Perth are Gastone in La traviata, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, Monostatos in Die Zauberflöte and Flavio in Norma, but his repertory also includes the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, Bruno in I puritani and the Shepherd and Young Sailor in Tristan und Isolde. Paul O’Neill also sang solo tenor roles in various concerts and opera performances with the Chorus of West Australian Opera and has won numerous prizes at international singing competitions. In 2006 a scholarship from a local opera foundation, Australia’s Covent Garden, allowed him to continue his studies at the National Opera Studio in London, after which he joined the Cardiff International Academy of Voice. In November 2007 Paul O’Neill became a member of the International Opera Studio of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden. This is his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Markus Schäfer studied singing and church music in Karlsruhe and Düsseldorf. A winner of the Federal Singing Competition and the Concorso Caruso in Milan, he attended the Zurich Opera Studio and made his professional stage debut with the Zurich Opera, where he also held his first permanent appointment. Further engagements followed with the Hamburg State Opera and the Deutsche Oper am Rhein. Since 1993 he has pursued a freelance career, appearing in leading opera houses and concert halls both at home and abroad. Central to his repertory are Mozart’s Ferrando, Don Ottavio and Tamino, but he is also closely associated with the part of the Evangelist in Bach’s Passions. Among the conductors with whom Markus Schäfer has worked are René Jacobs, Philippe Herreweghe, Michael Gielen, Kent Nagano and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, under whose direction he sang Pasquale in Haydn’s Orlando paladino at the Theater an der Wien in 2007. As a lieder recitalist, Markus Schäfer has performed to great acclaim in Vienna, at the Schubertiade in Feldkirch and Schwarzenberg and in New York. He took part in a performance of Hans Werner Henze’s Kammermusik 58 with the Scharoun Ensemble of Berlin at the 2008 Salzburg Easter Festival. Since the autumn of 2008 Markus Schäfer has taught at the Hanover Academy of Music and Theatre. This is his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Born in Japan to American parents, Kurt Streit is now regarded as one of the leading Mozart tenors of his generation. As Tamino he has been heard at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, London’s Royal Opera, the Los Angeles Opera and the Vienna, Munich and Hamburg State Operas, while Mozart’s other leading tenor roles have taken him to opera houses all over the world. Other works that are central to his repertory are the operas of Handel and works by Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Strauss, Janáček and Britten. As a concert singer, Kurt Streit has appeared in all the world’s leading concert halls and at numerous international festivals, where he has worked with such distinguished conductors as Riccardo Muti, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, with whom he has been particularly closely associated over a period of many years. He first appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in April 2004, when he sang Ferrando in Così fan tutte under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle. His most recent appearance was as Alfonso in concert performances of Schubert’s Alfonso und Estrella conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt in October 2005.

James Taylor initially studied in his native Texas, before a Fulbright Scholarship took him to the Munich Academy of Music in 1991. He then joined the Opera Studio of the Bavarian State Opera, subsequently appearing with the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels and the Stuttgart State Theatre. As a concert singer, James Taylor is now widely regarded as one of the world’s leading interpreters of the Passions, Masses and oratorios of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn, although his repertory also includes works by Monteverdi, Dvořák, Britten and Rihm. James Taylor has worked with many of the world’s leading conductors and orchestras as well as with ensembles specializing in early music. He made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in mid-January 2002, when he sang the title role in Handel’s Jephtha under the direction of Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Together with the lutenist Paul O’Dette and the piano accompanist Donald Sulzen, he has also been widely acclaimed as a song recitalist. Since the autumn of 2005 he has been Associate Professor of Voice, teaching oratorio and lieder singing at the University of Yale.

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