Use with Handel's Orlando,
The Academy of Ancient music CD #2
10 / 21 / 97
In Handel's Orlando, Dorinda and Medoro are not the primary focus of the opera, however, their relationship is quite dynamic; likewise Dorinda's arioso and aria and Medoro's aria have many aspects which tie them together and musically personify their relationship. The texts, form, tonalities, and harmonies of these pieces not only help to carve out the personalities of these characters but also to serve as catalysts for the more important focus of the opera, Orlando. It is also interesting to note that the times around the two arias are absolutely pivotal to the out come of the opera. In addition to the internal effects of the pieces, there is also meaning that expands beyond the opera to the social world of the time. In particular, the separation of the sexes and the molds that were considered characteristic of each sex are shown here. The opera is not an attack by Handel on the sexism and separation of the day, rather the stereotypes of the sexes are reinforced simply because that is the way society was at the time. However the most interesting point about the arias is not their social content, it is their meaning and musical expression which prove them to be some of the best arias ever written.
The use of text in the arias and the arioso do not tie into each other, but they do, quite thoroughly, help the listener to get a better understanding of the characters. The stage was set for the second act by using the first act of the opera as a sort of precursor to the more important second act, and it is in the first act that the listener discovers that Medoro has left Dorinda for Angelica. The second act begins with Dorinda's arioso which is full of poetic phrasing and imagery. The whole arioso is comprised of Dorinda talking to a bird that she hears in the trees and feels close to personally because the birds song so well describes her pain. Though the text truly comes alive when the music is added to it, simply the words themselves are quite telling and beautiful. After a brief discourse with Orlando, in which Orlando sees the locket he gave Angelica, Dorinda sings her aria. This aria also is full of imagery, in particular imagery of trees and nature which will be important in the listening of Medoro's aria. The detailed descriptions of the fact that she sees Medoro's face in each flower enables the listener to get further into the mind of the character. She was so obsessed with Medoro that his act of leaving her has thrown her into a massive depression where even the flowers seem to take on his shape. In addition, the entire text seems to give life to nature in that nature is said to have physical effects. Nature assumes the face of a person, nature experiences a waving motion, and finally nature talks to Dorinda. All these aspects seem to make nature a living thing. The purpose of this "humanizing" of nature is to prepare the listener for Medoro's aria. With respect to the plot, the most important part of Medoro's aria is that he carves the names of himself and Angelica into a tree. This relates to Dorinda's aria and arioso in that both of those previous songs talked about trees and woods and things in trees (the bird that was singing upon Dorinda's entrance). So the emphasis that was placed on nature in Dorinda's two songs was important because it foreshadowed what was to happen. Handel also uses the text and Medoro's action to pull the listener into Medoro's mind. Medoro is a man that is madly in love and the text of his aria speaks largely about love and is very poetic in a romantic sense. "The constant union of our hearts," is quite a powerful line that proves Medoro to be a passionate man. Though the texts of these arias are quite telling and important, it was the music that was Handel's primary focus.
Handel was a master at both the subtle and obvious aspects of the music he was writing, and it was the subtlety in the form of the arias that Handel puts into place here. Ariosos are typically straight forward and therefore form is not very relevant in ariosos, however, in the arias that Dorinda and Medoro sing, the form is quite important. The basic difference between Medoro's aria and Dorinda's aria is that Dorinda's aria is a da capo aria and Medoro's aria is a dal segno aria. Though this is only a small difference, both arias repeat it is just that one begins the second part A in a slightly different place than the other, further analysis of Act 2 yields interesting results. Angelica's aria which almost immediately follows Medoro's aria is also in the dal segno form. This is telling for two reasons. First, Medoro and Dorinda's arias are different, which personifies the fact that Medoro and Dorinda are different and cannot be together because they are not nearly as similar (be it personality-wise or other character traits) as Medoro and Angelica are. Handel uses this slight variation in structure to subconsciously, in the listener's mind, pull Dorinda and Medoro apart and push Angelica and Medoro together. The second telling thing about the structure not only of the arias but also of Act 2 as a whole is that Angelica's aria is sequentially closer to Medoro's than Dorinda's is. Since these are very passionate and heartfelt pieces of work, the fact that Angelica is closer to Medoro than Dorinda is is quite telling. However, structure is only a small part of the music that Handel creates and it is the harmony and tonality of the arioso and arias where Handel's talents can be most appreciated.
The arioso and arias are full of not only conventional musical means of expression but also unique and subtle musical ways of going more in depth into the emotion felt by the characters. Though it is relatively short, Dorinda's arioso has many different musical aspects of it that almost turn it into "the-aria-that-wasn't". The tonality of the arioso is very pastoral which, when combined with the text, portrays the landscape beautifully in a musical "painting". The pastoral aspect of the song is also reflected in the notes played in that they almost imitate bagpipes (arguably the most pastoral instrument) with the pedal point droning on as a melody is formed over it. This imitation of bagpipes continues on as Dorinda begins to sing. The pedal has flipped to the unison violins above Dorinda, but what is really important about Dorinda's vocal entrance is that the bass drops out. It is as if the bass were signifying Medoro and that when Dorinda enters and begins to sing, he is gone. This is an appropriate representation for Medoro because a deep tonality is usually thought of to be more masculine even if the person that it is personifying is a castrato. In addition to the beginning of the arioso, each time that Dorinda stops singing for a few measures the bass comes back and then exists when she starts again. (Musical Example 1 + Musical Eaxample 2) This theme of the absent bass occurs throughout the arioso whenever Dorinda stops singing for a couple of bars. Handel also sets up musical imagery in this arioso. In particular, he uses the first violin to imitate the bird which Dorinda is singing about and created an almost call and response theme between the two. In measures 5 and 6 the musical introduction has the first violin (or bird) playing the same line that Dorinda will sing in measures 13 and 14. (Musical Example 3 + Musical Example 4) Finally, Handel ties the text, melody, and imagery together with Dorinda's imitation of bird song in which she flutters around on the two words "canti" (or singing) and "tormenti" (or pains). These two words are tied together in such a way so that the listener knows that Dorinda is singing about her pains.
Though it is quite a bit longer, Dorinda's aria tends to elaborate on the them of the arioso. Her aria is setup with a minor tonality, again to emphasize the fact that she is in pain. The bass is also used in the aria to personify Medoro, however this time it has a slightly different twist. The beginning of the aria is the same as the arioso in that the bass drops out when Dorinda starts singing, however, each time that Dorinda sings Medoro's name, the bass plays the same melody as the motif for Medoro's aria. This happens throughout the piece and occurs again when she sings "Medoro sta" which means "there is Medoro". This proves the fact that in her arioso and aria, the bass does represent Medoro and his absence. An interesting point to note here is that, not only is the bass playing Medoro's theme, but the theme is unaccompanied by any of the upper voiced instruments in Dorinda's aria (Musical Example 5). This represents that fact that he (the bass voice) is not with Dorinda (the upper voices). Another interesting part of the aria is when she performs a slight key change in the B section on the line "behold you fond Medoro", for one measure she changes to G minor and sings through a inverted Gm chord to a Cm6 chord. In context these chord changes sounds much more happy and hopeful in comparison to the rest of the aria, but it all comes crashing down when she realizes that he is gone. (Musical Example 6) In contrast to Dorinda's aria, the tonality in Medoro's aria is major and likewise happier (the key is in E major). This time the main motif of the aria is accompanied by upper voices as if to say that Medoro does have a female counterpart now, Angelica. Not only is the theme accompanied by upper voices but the harmony is used in a very significant way. The violins have oblique movement to the tonal center, that is one of the violins remains steady at E and the other violin descends from G# to F# to E. (Musical Example 7) Quite a clever harmonic trick that was used by Handel to state that Medoro and Angelica were apart but have now come together. Conversely, the absence of any harmony with that melody line in Dorinda's aria means that there can be no coming together because there is no harmony to rely on. (Musical Example 8) Medoro also has several lines in the aria that are accented using harmony. In particular, in measures 16 through 17 his chromatic ascending of the word "conservati" (or eternally conserved) puts emphasis on the fact that his and Angelica's name will be on the tree forever. (Musical Example 9) This is important because the listener gets a better understanding of just how lovesick is, but more importantly, the carving of the tree is central to the rest of the story line.
It is true that the majority of the "action" in the opera takes place in Act 2, and the time surrounding the arias by Dorinda and Medoro are essential to the general plot and outcome of opera. Handel uses this fact to emphasize that, while though they are not the primary focus of the opera, they do play important roles and their music should not be overlooked. It is between Dorinda's arioso and aria that Orlando finds the necklace which he gave Angelica. This places added emphasis on the arioso and aria, and it is almost as if Handel knew that these were two particularly beautiful pieces and that he should accentuate them by putting such an important part of the opera in between them. The listener recognizes that Orlando just found out that Angelica might not have been entirely faithful so the listeners interest is peaked, and then Handel puts forth this exquisite music for the listener to truly appreciate. The time following Medoro's aria is just as critical, if not more critical, as the time around Dorinda's aria. Medoro's action of carving the names on the tree solidifies Orlando suspicions and causes him to go mad with rage. The main focus of the opera is on Orlando, after all the opera is called Orlando, and whatever actions directly affect Orlando should be thought of as critical, therefore the two arias combined coupled with the arioso can be thought of as the catalyst for the sequence of events that occurs in the end of the act and the rest of the opera.
Lastly, observing these arias and the characters they involve clearly shows how the separation and stereotypical molds of the sexes were existent in the time of Handel. The contrast of the sexes is very clear when the two arias are set side by side. First, since the most important part of the play is Orlando, it can be seen that Dorinda's part in the manifestations of Orlando's suspicions was quite passive while Medoro's part in confirming Orlando's suspicions was quite active. Orlando simply saw that necklace that Dorinda had. She played no active part in Orlando discovering the truth about Angelica, thus she was passive. Medoro carved the names into the trees which Orlando later saw, thus Medoro was active. This pattern of behavior can also be seen in the description of nature. Dorinda is much more calm and subdued with respect to nature than her male counterpart. She sings of swaying trees and beautiful bird songs, while Medoro speaks only about trees with no other lyrical ornamentation. Similarly, Dorinda makes her mark on nature by passively observing the flowers, whereas Medoro makes his mark on nature by acting upon the tree and carving his name into it. The simple act of carving can be seen as a male act. He uses a knife, a weapon, which is quite male and macho and she has no aggression or, what can be seen as, aggressive acts of any kind. Another gender separation which can be seen are the reaction differences between Dorinda and Orlando when they find out that the person they are in love with has found someone else. While Dorinda quietly weeps in the woods, feeling bad lamenting her loss, Orlando goes insane and starts to break things and go wild. Though these gender separations are quite apparent, it is doubtful that they had anything to do with Handel's opinions on roles of the sexes. It was simply the way that life was in those days and was probably not even observed by anyone at the time. However, it does give insight as to how females and males of the time period were stereotyped.
Though Dorinda and Medoro were not the center of attention in this opera, what with Orlando going mad and having hallucination of hell and demons and wizards popping up and doing magic, their characters and their actions are absolutely crucial to the story line. Their presence goes deeper than just ornamental characters simply put into the opera because the composer had to have more than the main couple. In addition, Dorinda's arioso and aria and Medoro's aria are some of the most beautiful pieces of music in the whole opera, and indeed the whole time period. Handel was a master of imagery and subtlety, and his musical genius simply elevated him to the status of a remarkable story teller and compositional master. The musical style in which he developed his characters helped create personalities for the characters that did not have much text from which to make concrete accessible individuals.