Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Anthony Negus conducts Das Rheingold at Longborough

There are those in England who decorate their front lawns with ever-smiling garden gnomes, but in rural Gloucestershire the Graham family has gone one better; their converted barn is inhabited, not by diminutive porcelain figures, but fantasy creatures of Norse mythology - dwarves, giants and gods.

Carmen in San Francisco

A razzle-dazzle, bloodless Carmen at the War Memorial, further revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2006 Covent Garden production already franchised to Oslo, Sidney and Washington, D.C.

Weimar Berlin - Bittersweet Metropolis: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra

Strictly speaking, The Weimar Republic began on 11th August 1919 when the Weimar Constitution was announced and ended with the Enabling Act of 23rd March 1933 when all power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag was disbanded.

A superb Un ballo in maschera at Investec Opera Holland Park

Investec Opera Holland Park’s brilliantly cast new production of Un ballo in maschera reunites several of the creative team from last year’s terrific La traviata, with director Rodula Gaitanou, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren and lighting designer Simon Corder being joined by the designer, takis.

A Classy Figaro at The Grange Festival

Where better than The Grange’s magnificent grounds to present Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Hampshire’s neo-classical mansion, with its aristocratic connections and home to The Grange Festival, is the perfect setting to explore 18th century class structures as outlined in Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto.

A satisfying Don Carlo opens Grange Park Opera 2019

Grange Park Opera opened its 2019 season with a revival of Jo Davies fine production of Verdi's Don Carlo, one of the last (and finest) productions in the company's old home in Hampshire.

Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, 2019

The first woman composer to receive the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize could not have been a worthier candidate.

Josquin des Prez and His Legacy: Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall

The renown and repute of Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521) both during his lifetime and in the years following his death was so extensive and profound that many works by his contemporaries, working in Northern France and the Low Countries, were mis-attributed to him. One such was the six-part Requiem by Jean Richafort (c.1480-c.1550) which formed the heart of this poised concert by the vocal ensemble Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall, in which they gave pride of place to Josquin’s peers and successors and, in the final item, an esteemed forbear.

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio United – F X Roth and Les Siècles, Paris

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio together, as they should be, with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles livestreamed from the Philharmonie de Paris (link below). Though Symphonie fantastique is heard everywhere, all the time, it makes a difference when paired with Lélio because this restores Berlioz’s original context.

Ivo van Hove's The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the Linbury Theatre

In 1917 Leoš Janáček travelled to Luhačovice, a spa town in the Zlín Region of Moravia, and it was here that he met for the first time Kamila Stösslová, the young married woman, almost 40 years his junior, who was to be his muse for the remaining years of his life.

Manon Lescaut opens Investec Opera Holland Park's 2019 season

At this end of this performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at Investec Opera Holland Park, the first question I wanted to ask director Karolina Sofulak was, why the 1960s?

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Cosmic traveling through his Klavierstücke, Kontakte and Stimmung

Stockhausen. Cosmic Prophet. Two sequential concerts. Music written for piano, percussion, sound diffusion and the voice. We are in the mysterious labyrinth of one of the defining composers of the last century. That at least ninety-minutes of one of these concerts proved to be an event of such magnitude is as much down to the astonishing music Stockhausen composed as it is to the peerless brilliance of the pianist who took us on the journey through the Klavierstücke. Put another way, in more than thirty years of hearing some of the greatest artists for this instrument - Pollini, Sokolov, Zimerman, Richter - this was a feat that has almost no parallels.

Don Giovanni at Garsington Opera

A violent splash of black paint triggers the D minor chord which initiates the Overture. The subsequent A major dominant is a startling slash of red. There follows much artistic swishing and swirling by Don Giovanni-cum-Jackson Pollock. The down-at-heel artist’s assistant, Leporello, assists his Master, gleefully spraying carmine oil paint from a paint-gun. A ‘lady in red’ joins in, graffiti-ing ‘WOMAN’ across the canvas. The Master and the Woman slip through a crimson-black aperture; the frame wobbles.

A brilliant The Bartered Bride to open Garsington's 2019 30th anniversary season

Is it love or money that brings one happiness? The village mayor and marriage broker, Kecal, has passionate faith in the banknotes, while the young beloveds, Mařenka and Jeník, put their own money on true love.

A reverent Gluck double bill by Classical Opera

In staging this Gluck double bill for Classical Opera, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, director John Wilkie took a reverent approach to classical allegory.

Time Stands Still: L'Arpeggiata at Wigmore Hall

Christina Pluhar would presumably irritate the Brexit Party: she delights in crossing borders and boundaries. Mediterraneo, the programme that she recorded and performed with L’Arpeggiata in 2013, journeyed through the ‘olive frontier’ - Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Spain, southern Italy - mixing the sultry folk melodies of Greece, Spain and Italy with the formal repetitions of Baroque instrumental structures, and added a dash of the shady timbres and rhythmic litheness of jazz.

Puccini’s Tosca at The Royal Opera House

Sitting through Tosca - and how we see and hear it these days - does sometimes make one feel one hasn’t been to the opera but to a boxing match. Joseph Kerman’s lurid, inspired or plain wrong-headed description of this opera as ‘a shabby little shocker’ was at least half right in this tenth revival of Jonathan Kent’s production.

A life-affirming Vixen at the Royal Academy of Music

‘It will be a dream, a fairy tale that will warm your heart’: so promised a preview article in Moravské noviny designed to whet the appetite of the Brno public before the first performance of Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen at the town’s Na hradbách Theatre on 6th November 1924.

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May 1594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Orpheus and Eurydice on the Banks of the Styx (1878) by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope
22 Jan 2014

Gluck: Orpheus and Eurydice

If you’re the sort of audience member who, when watching a performance of a play or opera, often experiences the urge to abandon your seat and join in with action, then the English Pocket Opera Company’s 2014 collaborative project will be just the thing for you.

Gluck: Orpheus and Eurydice

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Orpheus and Eurydice on the Banks of the Styx (1878) by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope

 

Presenting Gluck’s opera, Orpheus and Eurydice, EPOC invite you to metamorphose from passive onlooker to active participant, joining Orpheus as he journeys to the underworld to rescue his treasured Eurydice.

Led by Artistic Director, Mark Tinkler, The English Pocket Opera Company — now 20-years-old —has for the last 10 years been dedicated to creative educational projects with children young people, ranging from primary school children to undergraduates. Previous years have seen Hamlet, Don Giovanni, Dream (based on Purcell’s The Faerie Queen, a version of The Ring, Bluebeard’s and Hansel and Gretel performed in a variety of venues, from the Brady Centre in Tower Hamlets to The Cochrane Theatre.

The company produces what it describes as ‘Opera for, by and with children’. Feedback from participants and teachers has been extraordinarily positive, even eulogistic. And, the statistics too are impressive. In 2012, up to 50,000 children drawn from 250 schools in 2012 benefitted from the company’s multidisciplinary programmes; this year’s four-phase project exploring Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera, Orpheus and Eurydice, will involve over 10,000 children from 55 schools, as well as talented designers studying the BA in Performance Design and Practice at Central St Martins (part of the University of the Arts London), amateur singers and musicians, along with some professional singers, musicians and theatre practitioners.

In many ways — in this anniversary year — Gluck’s ‘reform’ opera is a good choice for this ambulatory project: Gluck’s story is told simply and with clarity, a result of the composer’s aspirations to replace the obscure, complex plots of opera seria with a ‘noble simplicity’ — it’s a tale which is easy to follow while perambulating!

Summoned to our feet by Orpheus (Paul Featherstone) in fairground fashion — ‘Roll up, roll up, for the greatest story ever told!’ — we followed the hero, accompanied by accordion player, fiddler and assorted furry-masked creature, to the opening location. The performance begins, not with the solemn, grief-laden chorus of nymphs and shepherds but with the wedding banquet of Orpheus and Eurydice (Pamela Hay) which, somewhat wryly, takes place in the college canteen (design, Maddy Rita Faye). A trellis table is adorned with goblets, victuals and floral bouquets, around which twirl and spiral the newly-weds and assorted animal guests, occasionally sweeping members of the audience into their festive dance. A piano or keyboard is stationed at each venue; in this opening scene, Music Director and pianist Philip Voldman — who played with unflappable composure and fluency throughout —strikes up, not Gluck’s elegant measures, but the mesmerising melody of Papageno’s ‘Das klinget so herrlich’, which rings out, calming the beasts and reminding us of another operatic rescue mission in which the hero must stoically undergo trials and tribulations in order for his beloved to be restored to his arms.

Fatally bitten by a serpent, Eurydice is carried by Orpheus to her grave. Recorded music bridges the gap between some locations, and the transitions between live and recorded sound are smooth and natural. Denise Dumitrescu’s designs turn the CSM Studio Theatre into a Classical funeral vault; burnished gold, circular pillars of ruffled cloth ripple from ceiling to floor, enclosing distraught mourners, as the funeral chorus provide a dignified accompaniment to the noble grace of the setting. As the delicate columns tumble gracefully to the floor, and Orpheus lunges fruitlessly into the airy space, loss and absence are poignantly emphasised. Again, the onlookers are drawn into the action, beckoned to strew white lilies on Eurydice’s grave, as Orpheus desperately seeks his lost love through the mists of cloth which drape the entrance to the underworld.

Vivian Lu’s striking, expressionistic tree turns a corner of the Theatre Bar into the wood in which Orpheus becomes increasingly distressed — haunted obsessively by the vision and voice of his dead wife. From here, we progress to the banks of the Styx where Amor (Joanne Foote) appears, to instruct Orpheus to travel to Hades in order to plead with the Furies for Eurydice to be spared. In an appropriately bare, starkly lit corner, designer Anastasia Glazova’s white screens are opened to reveal Amor crouching in a bubble wrap cage; the bubble wrap is torn down to form a Styxian carpet leading us to Hell (the Platform Theatre Orchestra Pit) — although as we trod the watery path, paying the beastly Charon by dropping badges into his mouth, the percussive popping produced a rather unfortunate, glib sound effect.

But, the motion of descent is persuasive; the rickety stairs leading to the bowels of the pit emphasise the precariousness and risks of Orpheus’s venture, and the dense smoke which swirled in around us in the gloom — perhaps too dense? — evoked the mists which obscure his understanding and his progress. A discarded shopping trolley, filled with detritus and diabolic emblems (design Lucia Riley) is a fitting emblem of misery and despair. Three Furies (Isabella Van Braeckel, Joanna Foote and Eimear Monaghan) angrily storm through the darkness, accompanied by dramatic choral interjections from above, until quelled by the sweetness of Orpheus’s lyre — evoked by the resonant pizzicati of Sivan Traub’s violin — they agree to help return Eurydice to him.

Ascending to the Theatre Stage, the audience find themselves in the Elysium Fields of the versatile Van Braeckel and Monaghan, a shimmering paradise of reflecting white discs strung from knotted ropes, the floor ornamented with black, circular mats decorated with silvery spirals; the scene is illuminated by an evocative amber and chartreuse glow. The unveiling of a hideous skeleton when Orpheus contravenes his promise not to look back at Euridice is a striking coup de theatre. Drawn to the front of the stage, we witnessed Orpheus submit to suicidal thoughts in the Theatre Auditorium which is transformed by Mathias Krajewski into Orpheus’s homeland. A wig-wam of thin threads furnishes him with a hang-man’s rope until his grief so moves the Gods that they allow Eurydice to return to the mortal world, weaving and gliding through the audience to re-join her husband.

For the happy conclusion, the jubilant characters and chorus assemble in the Theatre Bar for a celebratory home-coming. Robin Soutar’s pillar-box red Punch and Judy booth restores the sardonic, burlesque air of the opening scene, as the dignified strains of Gluck give way to the more riotous tones of Offenbach’s ‘Infernal Galop’.

Performance standards were high, especially considering that most of the participants are amateurs performers. As Eurydice, soprano Pamela Hay revealed a glittering upper register and strong, varied characterisation, capable of capturing both the intensity and insouciance that the different settings require. The sweetness of her tone and elegance of phrase garnered much pity for Eurydice. Joanna Foote was similarly affecting as Amor: her arias were well-crafted and stylish. The chorus sang with good intonation and a well-blended, balanced sound.

As Orpheus, Paul Featherstone was committed and impassioned, and he did much to involve the audience in the drama and to encourage their sympathetic engagement with the protagonists’ fates. But, sadly, poor intonation, some heavy-handed shaping of the melodic phrases, a rough-edged tone and an undeviating dynamic level — forte — made this role a weak link in the performance. There were moments of tenderness, but these were not sustained, and the big numbers — ‘Chiamo il mio ben’, Che farò senza Euridice?’ — lacked the necessary mellifluousness and lyricism.

The designs were fresh and interesting; these young, up-and-coming students approached the work without preconceptions about what opera design ‘should’ be, and there were some imaginative and striking visual images and effects. Occasionally elements of the venue were a little distracting — signs and notices, stairways and lighting drawing our focus away from the moral dignity of the mythological journey; and, occasionally unsuspecting art students going about their business were startled to find themselves part of an operatic liberation assignment, their passage barred by an assortment of blessed spirits or demons! But, the imbibers in the Theatre Bar seemed pleasantly amused by the arrival of the pantomime-esque road-show at the close.

It seems incredible that all this is achieved on a shoe-string budget; EPOC relies on box office receipts and students have to fund their own materials for sets and costumes. It is not just a ‘worthy’ venture but a worthwhile and artistically rewarding one too.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

This ‘promenade’ version of Gluck’s opera is ‘Phase 2’ of EPOC’s project, following on from Phase 1 ‘Opera Blocks’, an interactive presentation in primary schools unpacking the work, and opera in general. Next comes a performance at the Royal Albert Hall on 17 March involving choirs representing all 55 schools in the borough of Camden accompanied by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; Phase 4 will conclude the project, during which EPOC will work with schools to create their own versions of Orpheus and Eurydice — writing arias, choruses, building and designing sets and costumes, before performing their devised works to parents.

Orpheus, Paul Featherstone; Eurydice, Pamela Hay; Amor, Joanna Foote; Animals at Wedding Feast Vivian Lu (Rhinoceros), Anastasia Glazova (Monkey), Eimear Monaghan; (Rabbit), Joanna Foote (Snake); Mourners at Funeral Isabella Van Braeckel, Laureline Garcia, Jess Milton, Krishna Menon, Marlene Binder, Chuck Blue Lowry; Priest at Funeral, Robin Soutar; Charon, Minshin Yano; 3 Moirai (Furies) Isabella Van Braeckel (Atropos), Joanna Foote (Lachesis), Eimear Monaghan (Clotho); Blessed Spirits Joanna Foote (sung), Maddy Rita Faye, Lucia Riley; Director, Mark Tinkler; Music Director, Philip Voldman; Lighting Design. Alex Hopkins, Fridthjofur Thorsteinsson; Set Design, Maddy Rita Faye, Denisa Dumitrescu, Vivian Lu, Anastasia Glazova, Lucia Riley, Isabella Van Braeckel, Eimear Monaghan, Mathias Krajewski, Robin Soutar; Costume Design. Robin Soutar (Orpheus), Denisa Dumitrescu (Eurydice), Anastasia Glazova, (Amor), Mathias Krajewski (Amor Sc6, Olympian Gods), Maddy Rita Faye (‘Animals’ at Wedding Feast), Denisa Dumitrescu (Mourners and Priest at Funeral), Lucia Riley (Charon & 3 Moirai), Isabella Van Braeckel, Eimear Monaghan (Blessed Spirits and Eurydice puppet); Violin, Sivan Traub; Stage Manager, Heather Young; Lighting Assistant, Aubrey Tait. Platform Theatre, Central St Martin’s, London, Tuesday, 21st January, 2014

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):