Guillaume Bernardi (right) runs a scene with actors Douglas Williams (left) and Kim (center). (NINA LIN)
Guillaume Bernardi (right) runs a scene with actors Douglas Williams (left) and Kim (center). (NINA LIN)

For the first time ever, there will be a collaboration between the Stony Brook Opera and the Stony Brook Baroque Players to perform George Friedrich Handel’s famous opera, “Orlando,” right here on campus at the Staller Center for the Arts.
Considered one of Handel’s ‘magical’ operas, the performance will be packed with elaborate music, acting, costumes, and video projections, all matched with plenty of drama, as Baroque is notably known for.
What exactly is Baroque?
As Professor Arthur Haas, who is Director of the Baroque Players, explains it, Baroque describes the period of Western classical music from the 1600s until 1750, right before the time of Mozart and Beethoven, and as the first instance of composers being expressive with music.
“What’s great about this opera is that it coincides with the birth of Baroque,” Haas said.
“You’re taking a story, and like going to the movies, you’re getting hooked on the story.”
Haas, a professor of early music performance and harpsichord at Stony Brook, is a professional harpsichordist and one of the most in-demand teachers of Baroque today. It is Haas’ first time directing the Baroque players in the opera, as he described his enthusiasm to see the outcome of all the hard work his players and the opera workshop have put in, rehearsing since the start of the semester.
In the orchestra pit, the audience will be able to see an aggregation of 25 Baroque players, an ensemble that comprises, among other things, two harpsichords, a small organ, a baroque guitar, and an interesting string instrument known as an archlute.
“It’s a really exciting piece, a really dynamic play,” Haas said. “There’s a magical feel about it.”
And magical it is. “Orlando” tells of a story in which a soldier is in desperation to be reunited with his lover, only to discover that she’s left him for another man. Driven by heartbreak and insanity, the soldier is almost the cause of his own demise until a mysterious magician comes to his aid.
Stony Brook’s very own professor of opera studies and music history and theory, David Lawton, is also the co-director of the Opera Workshop and a guest conductor for several regional American opera companies.
Lawton explained the intensive rehearsals that the Baroque players and opera singers attended, working individually and with Haas in order to really master the music on their own. He also went on to describe the obstacles that the Stony Brook team faced as a whole in order to perfect the fully-staged performance of “Orlando.”
“This opera has some real challenges,” Lawton said. “Those tricky scenes, the magic scenes. How do we show them?”
Professor Lawton described the spectacular effects that Stony Brook crew has put together for the production of “Orlando,” all including elaborate video and cinematic projections and marvelous costumes that will really give the audience a visual sense of the time period.
“Back then, they would have used machinery to achieve all of the effects, but we couldn’t do that. So how did we match it?” Lawton asked. “With stunning visual effects, and spectacular singing and orchestra music that will be communicative to the audience.”
“Orlando” is written and performed in Italian, but the Stony Brook crew will be projecting English subtitles so that the audience will be able to understand the music, all while feeling it artistically.
To match all the dazzling musical talent that is going into the production of “Orlando,” Stony Brook hired Guillaume Bernardi as staging director, to make sure that the setup of the show would be just as impressive. Bernardi has been a stage director for 25 years, coaching operas that have taken place all over the world, in destinations such as Frankfurt, Brussels, Paris and Vancouver.
The seasoned stage director described “Orlando” as a “beautiful piece” that students should be getting excited about to go see.
“This is being done by a great team and it’s such an interesting piece,” Bernardi said.
“It’s a story of somebody who has to make choices in his life, just like students do.”
Mr. Bernardi described the marriage of Baroque and opera in “Orlando” as “very dramatic” and “human-sized,” something that the audience will be able to relate to.
“The opera is an allegory that is supposed to help you go through your life,” Bernardi said. “This is the most live form of live music.”
Working with the Staller Center for the Arts completes the perfect trifecta between the Stony Brook Baroque Players and the Stony Brook Opera.
Alan Inkles, the director of the Staller Center, expressed his excitement that this will be an all Stony Brook staff and team production, with no outside performers coming in.
“Our mission at Staller is to produce a professional university production,” Inkles said. “I am delighted when we do this. We have great student work and we treat it just as importantly as we do with outside performers.”
“Orlando” sounds to be more than promising, taking a significant piece by a legendary composer, and having it entirely carried out by an all Stony Brook team.
“This is what is so great about Staller,” Inkles said. “I really encourage students to see this.”
Handel’s “Orlando” will be performed at Stony Brook University on Saturday, April 13, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, April 14 at 3 p.m. Tickets for the show can be purchased at the Staller Center Box Office, or online at www.stallercenter.com.

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