18 March 2014 at 2.46pm | Comment on this article
L’Ormindo regularly shifts between almost farcical comedy and deep pathos. In the final scene of Act II Prince Amidas, one of the two principal romantic male roles, falls back in love with his abandoned fiancée Princess Sicle. While the basis for the scene – an elaborate trick played on Amidas by Sicle and her nurse Eryka – is comic, Sicle’s anger and grief at being abandoned, Amidas’ remorse and the couple’s ultimate reconciliation are treated in a wholly serious and moving way.
In Act I Amidas and his friend Ormindo both fell in love with Erisbe, the wife of the aged King Ariadenus. Amidas decided to throw over his fiancée Sicle and woo Erisbe. However, Sicle (who, in disguise, has followed Amidas to Ariadenus’ court) is well aware of his treachery. She recruits her old nurse Eryka to help her win Amidas back.
In Act II Eryka and Sicle disguise themselves as gypsies, and tell Amidas’ and Erisbe’s fortunes. Sicle persuades Erisbe that Amidas is not to be trusted, while Eryka offers to help Amidas win Erisbe by magic, if he meets her that evening in a nearby cave. Amidas agrees.
While waiting for Amidas, Eryka (sung by a tenor, as older female roles sometimes were in early Baroque opera) sings a cheerful and tuneful aria on the dangers of greed and selfishness – a purely comic interlude. When Amidas arrives, Eryka, in her gypsy disguise, pretends to commune with the spirits. She informs Amidas that Sicle has died of grief, and that her spirit wishes to speak with him.
Amidas and Sicle’s ensuing dialogue is accompanied solely by continuo (harpsichord, harp and theorbo). The style shifts constantly from recitative to snatches of melody and back. Amidas’s awe and fear as the ‘shade of Sicle’ approaches is illustrated in his slow, rising vocal line, with chromatic harmonies in the continuo. Sicle accuses Amidas of treachery in a subdued monotone; as she grows angrier her vocal range expands, and she emphatically denounces Amidas as a traitor.
Amidas is stricken with remorse, and begs Sicle’s forgiveness in sighing, descending phrases. Sicle sorrowfully describes her abandonment, then erupts in anger and to fierce, stabbing figures in the continuo orders Amidas to leave her. Her mood soon returns to melancholy, and she confesses that she still loves Amidas. Amidas, in anguish, cries out ‘Oh, revenge of love!’ and swears passionately that he will never know peace again. His music grows in ardour as he tells Sicle how his love for her is rekindled, and how he’ll never love anyone else. As he continues to plead for forgiveness, Sicle begins to relent; her vocal style grows livelier as she promises that she will live if Amidas continues to love her.
But Amidas is firmly convinced that Sicle is a ghost, and that he’s lost her forever. As Sicle’s music grows more joyful, Amidas’s remains melancholy, and he gently bids Sicle’s spirit rest in peace. Only when Sicle persuades him to embrace her does Amidas realize that she is a woman, not a spirit; his joy is conveyed in bright major harmonies and a rising, exultant line.
For the first time in the scene the full Baroque orchestra enters, as the lovers are united in an ornate duet with florid vocal lines – also the scene's first passage of extended melody. The lovers' union is expressed through the imitation between their vocal lines. Sicle always takes the lead, introducing each new melodic idea – suggesting that from now on she may be the dominant partner in the relationship!
L’Ormindo runs 25 March–12 April 2014 at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe. Tickets are still available via the Globe’s website.
The production is given with generous philanthropic support from Sir Simon and Lady Robertson.