By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  October 31, 2006

Even more miraculous was the performance of the title role by countertenor Jeffrey Gall, who sang Ariosto’s love-besotted hero at Emmanuel 27 years ago and on stage at ART. His voice may no longer have the same heft or texture, but the rhythmic bite, the breathtaking coloratura, and the passionate characterization are as vivid as ever.

The “newcomers” were also extraordinary. Soprano Kendra Colton (the lovelorn but realistic shepherdess Dorinda) was in love with mezzo Krista River (the African Prince Medoro), as she had been a couple of weeks before in Opera Boston’s La clemenza di Tito. Soprano Dominique Labelle was a magnificently tormented Angelica, who owes Orlando her life but can’t help loving Medoro. Their interweaving trio, in which the two lovers try to console Dorinda, is one of the most sublime moments in Handel; I can’t imagine that it could be sung more ravishingly. (It ended with another heavenly — almost improvisatory — cadenza composed by Smith.) A duet between the raving, bloodthirsty Orlando and the mourning Angelica was another unforgettable event, the fast/slow rhythmic counterpoint one more place where Handel was changing the rules of opera. As the magician Zoroastro, young bass Michael Callas, just out of BU’s Opera Institute and with a career already blossoming, sounded a bit raw in this starry company.

Thanks to Sarah Caldwell and (especially in his collaborations with Craig Smith) Peter Sellars, there were periods when Boston was a world center for opera. For a few moments last week, it felt as if that golden age had returned.

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