Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lovestruck Lunacy: Haydn's 'Orlando Paladino'

At first glance, the premise of Joseph Haydn's opera Orlando Paladino hardly seems unusual. Its title character literally goes crazy over love, and in the opera house, stories about love and madness are pretty much standard fare. But look again, and it turns out Haydn's drama is a bit unusual, after all — and not just for an opera.

Madness, in general, has long been a popular subject for all kinds of entertainment. At the movies, we've seen Sharon Stone as the plainly psychotic killer in Basic Instinct. And who could forget Alex Forrest, the notorious, bunny-boiling Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction?

In the opera house, lunacy is also a frequent attraction, and mad scenes for lovelorn crazies often serve as the highlight of the evening. The most famous of them all may be the one in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, but there are plenty of others. The disturbing scene in Cherubini's Medea, when the title character decides to murder her children, also comes quickly to mind.

So what makes Orlando Paladino stand out? Well, you might have noticed that, except for Orlando, all the unbalanced, lovesick characters mentioned so far have been women. Sure, there are male characters who wind up on the wrong side of romance. But in general, they're portrayed far differently, and their reactions to lost love are less frenzied. In opera, for example, they seldom get "mad scenes." Instead, they sing forceful, manly arias focused on outrage, anger and vengeance. Not Orlando: Right from the start, it's clear that this guy is just plain nuts.

Haydn wrote Orlando Paladino in 1782, basing it on Ludovico Ariosto's 16th-century epic, Orlando Furioso. The same work also inspired two or three operas by Handel, one by Vivaldi and lots more by composers who aren't so well known.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents a production of Hadyn's version of the story that benefits from some of the world's finest acoustics. It's performed at the fabled Concertgebouw, in Amsterdam, with tenor Marcel Reijans as the woeful Orlando, and soprano Henriette Bonde-Hansen as Angelica, the woman who sends him over the edge.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit