Orlando, Royal Opera House, London <!-- none onestar twostar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Make love, not war? Has Orlando, the warrior, strayed from his destiny? Does Orlando, the lover, have a future? Can the two ever be reconciled? It's all in the stars, says Francisco Negrin in his 2003 staging of Handel's opera, revived here. Zoroastro the magician may not have a lovely assistant but he has Mars and Venus, to say nothing of Eros, all finding physical form in pursuit of the answers. And the answers, wouldn't you know, all point to Orlando the knight in shining armour. A victory for pacifists this is not.

For the rest, the usual romantic entanglements make for a series of glorious, passionate, unrequited, heartbroken arias. Negrin and his designer Anthony Baker move the action along quickly and efficiently, deploying a kind of revolving-door effect through which our protagonists can play out their affairs of the heart in intriguingly close proximity to each other.

Eros (David Lucas) is an almost constant presence and in one of the production's neatest reversals is given a hard time by the jilted shepherdess Dorinda (the feisty and excellent Camilla Tilling), who gives him an eye-watering taste of one of his own arrows. But though the production seems better focused this time around, Negrin does little to heighten passion in an opera that is almost entirely about, well, passion.

Beautiful as much of the playing and singing was, it rarely seduced the senses. It wasn't sexy. The one exception was countertenor Bejun Mehta in the title role - though ironically it was the blistering virtuosity of his bravura numbers that provided the biggest turn-on, suggesting that the time to bed him might be on the eve of a great battle. His quieter, more reflective moments were less interesting, though his slightly overworked "white" sound echoed solo strings to mesmerising effect in the great sleep aria of the last act.

Anna Bonitatibus (as Medoro) was sometimes a little discreet for the size of house, though her tender, fine-spun confession of true love for Angelica was most affecting. Rosemary Joshua reciprocated in kind, beautifully, if a little too chastely. Together they made sweet music, their voices melding and wafting to poetic effect.

Meanwhile, our scorned shepherdess Dorinda, in an aria of withering cynicism, decrees that love's a farce. Tilling seized that with everything that the top and the bottom of her voice could muster. She earned her laughs and her ovation. And showed Eros the door.

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