Last year I had the pleasure of working with the young opera director RB Schlather and his ingenious storefront Handel opera trilogy at Whitebox Gallery just off the Bowery. The whole experience was unlike anything I had witnessed in the music world. It was something I will never forget—and I don’t think my 8yo daughter will either. For three weeks RB opened Orlando rehearsals to the public—by luring passersby with a TV in the front window that broadcast everything going on inside. The rehearsals were also streamed online, so you could see them anywhere.
Since I live just a few blocks from Whitebox, it was easy to run over—and several times I brought my daughter and her friends. One day, RB was working with soprano Anya Matanovic, who played Dorinda, on her aria “Amor e qual vento.” He had her sing it over and over, trying out all kinds of physically demanding and wild staging (note: hairspray and makeup application while singing, costume change, jumping on and off platforms…) until it became an absolute showstopper: an aria of transformation and female empowerment, where Anya got to channel all of her considerable charisma, confidence and sass as she turned from a nerdy innocent girl into a woman in total control, like wonder woman in the phone booth.
Anya was a true heroine, and the young girls were dazzled by her—but also by the aria she rehearsed repeatedly, with its delightful trills and ornamentation, which required a lot of stamina and technical brilliance. The tunes of Orlando haunted us for days (RB’s intention). We hummed them in the shower, at breakfast. We bought a recording of Orlando which my daughter still asks to listen to: Rene Jacobs and the B’Rock Orchestra, with Bejun Mehta (on Archiv). I have RB to thank for this new love of baroque opera. I grew up in a very musical family, but early music didn’t exist in our house. My mother, a pianist who led her own chamber music group, admitted to me that the sound of an early instrument made her ill! So here’s to being bitten by the baroque, sooner or later. Anthony Roth Costanzo put it perfectly, when I told him how hard we all fell for Orlando: “Forever Baroque!!”
Here is Dorinda’s aria (or the hairspray aria, as we call it at home) from Orlando, “Amor e qual vento,” sung by Rosa Mannion with William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants:
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