“Orlando Furioso” a Mystery in the 18th Century Style – Kupčs

“Orlando Furioso” a Mystery in the 18th Century Style – Kupčs
Kaspars Garda, Riga 2014 . Conductor and early music interpreter Māris Kupčs
Una Griškeviča
“Orlando Furioso” is a story in the 18th century style, filled with mystery, conductor Māris Kupčs says of Antonio Vivaldi’s opera that will be performed during the Early Music Festival on the 9th of July. The conductor says that he has been captivated by baroque music since the age of ten: “I still consider this music much more interesting than that which is composed and performed nowadays!” This is one of the reasons why he decided to stage “Orlando Furioso”, one of the baroque music masterpieces, for the Early Music Festival. “The other reason – this year it will be nine years since we produced Antonio Vivaldi’s opera “Ottone in Villa” in Latvia for the first time,” reveals the conductor.

“If someone asked me, which of the versions of “Orlando Furioso” we will perform, I would have a hard time answering because Vivaldi was composing constantly,” Māris says laughingly, and goes on to tell us that Vivaldi, being a true Venetian, loved money very much and therefore believed he had to create as many compositions as possible in order to make a decent living. “That is why Vivaldi did not publish his manuscripts in later life – he would rather be visited in person and sell any of his opuses for a piece of gold. He had calculated that he would not earn as much if he was publishing his works,” says Māris Kupčs, explaining – that is why there are several versions of the opera “Orlando Furioso”, and they are shrouded in mystery for most of the time.


“A while ago “Latvijas koncerti” Director Guntars Ķirsis, who is the one who actually proposed, and insisted, that we stage a baroque opera at this year’s festival, told the press the sensational news that a new opera by Vivaldi had been found. All New York newspapers wrote about it, it was widely reported in the press. In truth, however, nothing had been found because, in fact, half of Antonio Vivaldi’s manuscripts were bought in the 1930s, and then they changed hands again in the 1940s. So his works were accumulated and, strangely enough, there was one half-finished opera that, as it later turned out, had been composed by Giovanni Alberto Ristori – a contemporary of Zelenka.”

Māris Kupčs also remarks that, at the time Vivaldi began to write operas and became an acclaimed opera composer, he partly reworked Ristori’s opera and presented it as his own or, in modern-day terms, “remixed” it. 

“For this particular production, we took both Vivaldi’s editions of “Orlando Furioso”, plus Ristori’s overture from the opera “La Fata” that he wrote in 1637, I believe. So we have a real pasticcio!” the conductor says to describe the 9th of July concert, emphasising that it will be a typical 18th century performance.

“The first most important thing about the performance – there will be extraordinarily beautiful music. It’s harder to say about the plot because, even at the time the opera was composed, the events it deals with are not set in a particular time and place – it maybe a story about Arthur’s knights of the round table, but the events are not taking place in a particular time but on an a magical island with Merlin’s ashes… It is but a fairy tale.”

Māris Kupčs explains that the creative team did not try to stick to realism and relive how performances were staged at Vivaldi’s time. “It is impossible for us to understand it, there is a symbol upon a symbol, which meant completely different things. That is why we, together with Director Laura Groza-Ķibere, are creating a performance understandable for a contemporary audience. But it does not mean that a lot will be changed, as there are enough contemporary symbols in the performance.” By the way, the action will be much more dynamic because recitatives, so often employed in operas of the given period, will be omitted – and, of course, thanks to the Director Laura Groza-Ķibere’s work. “The plot may seem very serious, albeit with a hint of something funny and, as befits Venice, something risqué.”

Taking into consideration that many famous composers were associated with Riga in one way or another, we ask Māris Kupčs if Vivaldi ever visited Latvia.

“We don’t know anything about it, but Ristori was, in a way, associated with Riga – he was the first Italian composer whose opera was staged in St. Petersburg in the 1830s, during Anna Ioannovna’s reign and with support from Biron. Most certainly Biron was involved, because his influence in Russian court life was undeniable – nothing ever happened without his approval. That’s how the Italian opera came to St. Petersburg and, a little later, Veichtner performed there – whose association with Riga is impossible to deny."

The conductor also does not forget to mention the soloists who will participate in the performance. “If countertenor Sergejs Jēgers, who will play the role of Orlando, was hooked up to a note-counter, the quantity of notes produced in a square second would be impossibly high!” smiles Māris, adding that he suspects Sergejs did not actually know what he was up for when he agreed to participate in the project. “He will be the only countertenor to sign Orlando. Usually – and you can hear this in the opera’s most popular version available, for instance, at “Spotify”, Orlando’s role is performed by a woman.” However, Māris believes that Sergejs is more than up to the task, vocally. Māris Kupčs goes on to say that one more tenor will participate in the production of “Orlando” – Morten Grove Frandsen from Denmark. “Partly because of this, Sergejs has learned his part already two months before the performance – he finally has competition”, the conductor says with a smile, adding that the young Danish countertenor is very promising and popular with the Danes: “He has a great future before him, he currently studies at the Covent Garden Opera Academy, which is where I found him when I worked there as a lecturer,” says the conductor, adding that he thought it interesting to put the two countertenor together. Furthermore, there will be a third countertenor – Sergejs Jēgers’ pupil Rūdolfs Bacāns, who will have a small part in the performance.

(A video about the production of the “Orlando Furioso” opera, in Latvian:)

“This opera, strangely enough, has just one soprano part, which I have entrusted to the magnificent Elīna Šimkus. But there are also two altos – Laura Grecka as Alcina and Irma Pavāre who will sing the female knight. No one knows still why a female knight – who has a knight boyfriend, too. Obviously no one was very concerned with such trifling matters when the opera was being created,” Māris Kupčs sums up, indicating that Director Laura Groza-Ķibere is yet to decide whether the female knight will wear a skirt or trousers. “Well, that’s about as much as I can tell you about the opera that will present a truly beautify and very Italian music. And there is not a single role in the performance that is easy!” says Māris Kupčs.


Going back to his story about falling in love with baroque music, the conductor says that it was thanks to Mozart’s music. “What’s so special about baroque? That’s about the same as to ask why this century is so fascinating. You simply live it, that is it.

I feel very free in baroque music, because it does not have to be performed as it was intended to be, there is great freedom within it, which you cannot find in later music. This is very prominent in Mozart’s music, where you are not limited by anything – only a good taste and the way you want to manipulate the listener.

And that is why those who start to do it do not want to do anything else,” emphasises Māris, revealing that he considers contemporary music to mostly be a copy, an imitation. “Everyone is talking about the music language, but it is only baroque music where you can find one,” says the conductor, inviting everyone to the performance of Vivaldi’s opera in Spīķeri on the 9th of July and to “Collegium Musicum Riga” concerts in August.


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