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Handel’s “Orlando” worthy of standing ovation

Williams (left) and Kim (right) perform in Handel's "Orlando" at the Staller Center. (YOON SEO NAM)
Williams (left) and Kim (right) perform in Handel’s “Orlando” at the Staller Center. (YOON SEO NAM)

The main stage of The Staller Center for the Arts on campus was lit up and full of magic, love and drama this past weekend with two full-staged productions of George Handel’s “Orlando” by an all-Stony Brook cast and crew.

Saturday night’s show, the first production, evoked a hyped-up type of atmosphere. The show attracted a packed audience full of Stony Brook students and non-students.

Stony Brook’s rendition of “Orlando” was a perfected collaboration between the Stony Brook Baroque Players and the Stony Brook Opera, both of which executed their roles unbelievably well in the production as individual parts and, of course, as a team that blended together in unison.

The theme was simplicity, as seen in the props on stage. An elegant chair, flower petals and leaves scattered all across the floor with branches hanging above the set that created a visually compelling show of shadows across the set. These elements, along with a solid white-washed wall with four panels and a projection screen, created a three-hour long performance that consisted of three acts.

While the orchestra, dressed in all black, began playing under the direction of composer Arthur Haas, who is also the Director of the Baroque Players, the first character took his place on stage as whimsical projections of star constellations were brought to life on the screen.

Douglas Williams, who had performed at the Opera de Nice in France, captivated the audience with his stage presence and powerful bass-baritone voice, playing Zoroastro, a magician and friend of the title character, Orlando.

The characters that came next were perhaps a surprise to the audience. A woman, Ryu-Kyung Kim, a Ph.D. graduate, played the eponymous role of Orlando, although the character was indeed a male in Charlemagne’s army.

Kim, who has worked with the Korean Symphony Orchestra and Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra in the past, personified the maddened man’s anguish and heartbreak over losing his true love through her commanding mezzo-soprano voice.

Malinda Haslett and Monica Sciaky, two Ph.D. students, and Kathleen O’Rourke, a masters student,  were also pivotal additions to the show’s cast.

Orlando’s one true love, Angelica, was played by Haslett, who had performed in over 30 professional operas and is currently pursuing a doctorate at Stony Brook University as a first year student. Haslett’s performance and singing echoed with elegance and grace, her movement as regal as her soprano voice. Angelica betrays the love of Orlando by having an affair with Prince Medoro.

O’Rourke played the lovesick and loveable character of Dorinda, a shepherdess who is hopelessly enamored with Medoro. O’Rourke, who will be graduating this May with a master’s degree in vocal performance from Stony Brook, charmed the audience with her soprano voice and quirky, head-over-heels in love performance.

Sciaky also took on a male role, playing the ambivalent and love-confused Prince Medoro. Medoro’s affliction of being torn between the affections of Angelica and Dorinda was heard and portrayed through Sciaky’s mezzo-soprano voice, a familiar voice at SBU. Sciaky is a doctoral student who has performed in other campus productions such as “Great Romances” and “Hansel and Gretel.”

Drama took the stage as the opera progressed and Orlando finds out he has lost his true love, Angelica, to Medoro. Kim evokes a mental deterioration of her character through her overwhelming voice, and the audience sees the once strong soldier Orlando almost come to his demise.

The Baroque music matched exactly the acting of the cast on stage—fast-paced and more upbeat music played during the introduction and the brighter scenes, while slow-tempo music and sudden syncopations lingered as the characters experienced distress and tragedy.

Prominent stage director Guillaume Bernardi was seated in the audience. Bernardi orchestrated the theatre production of “Orlando,” which he evidently did with conciseness and creativity.

The characters’ costumes were outstanding, all reminiscent and extremely realistic of the time period in which “Orlando” takes place. Tights, petticoats, corsets and wigs were all a part of the costuming, majestic and regal in all essence. Mundane greens, browns, taupe and charcoal greys composed the main color scheme of the night, with flashy rhinestones for Queen Angelica and shiny chain armor for Orlando.

Famous New York based designer Camille Assaf was brought in to do the costumes for the production. Assaf has designed for the New York City Ballet and made contributions to the 2008 Beijing Olympic opening ceremony.

The end of the show proved to have a happy ending, even after all the tragedy, heartbreak and near-insanity the characters were driven to.

All five members of the cast, including Haas and Bernardi, received standing ovations from the audience.

Perry Goldstein, the chair of the Department of Music at SBU, expressed his excitement regarding the production.

“The Music Department’s opera productions each year are always exciting events,” Goldstein said. “They combine the talents of our superb singers and excellent instrumentalists and we bring in additional professionals to sing as well as direct. It’s always great fun.”

Goldstein went on to explain the significance of performing an opera such as “Orlando” by an all-Stony Brook team.

“Handel was one of our greatest opera composers and we’re glad to offer this opportunity for the university student body to see opera come to life in their own backyard,” he said.

The student body in attendance also gave “Orlando” a generally warm and positive reception.

“It made me understand what opera was like and how it differed from musicals,” sophomore biochemistry major Julia Joseph said. “It was a unique way of telling a classical story, and I enjoyed being immersed in a different form of art.”

The cast, music, song, staging and costuming created an artistically ingenious trifecta, which made Stony Brook’s take on “Orlando” come bright and alive on stage.

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