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 Reviews

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Gyula Orendt as Orfeo and Mary Bevan as Euridice [Photo by Stephen Cummiskey]
16 Jan 2015

Orfeo at the Roundhouse, Royal Opera

The regal trumpets and sackbuts sound their bold herald and, followed by admiring eyes, the powers of state and church begin their dignified procession along a sloping walkway to assume their lofty positions upon the central dais.

Orfeo at the Roundhouse, Royal Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Gyula Orendt as Orfeo and Mary Bevan as Euridice

Photos by Stephen Cummiskey

 

Just as things were at the first performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo on 24 February 1607, in the exquisite apartments of the Gonzaga Palace in Mantua; except that we are at the Roundhouse in Camden, ducal regalia has been replaced by slick business suits and clerical attire, and those sitting in judgement upon the unfortunate pre-nuptial couple, Orfeo and Euridice, are not the Gods and Spirits of classical antiquity but black-cloaked representatives of modern civic and ecclesiastical institutions.

The ‘first opera’, the first time opera has been staged at the Roundhouse, an experienced theatre director’s first essay into opera, and the Royal Opera House’s first production of Orfeo: this quartet of inaugurations made for an auspicious occasion, with added interest offered by the involvement of a chorus comprising students from the Vocal Department of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and dancing ‘nymphs and shepherds’ drawn from East London Dance. And, indeed, there was much to appreciate and enjoy at this opening night of director Michael Boyd’s production of Monteverdi’s favola in musica: but, there was also a sense that perhaps the opportunities afforded by the distinctive qualities of the venue and the rich variety of the personnel had not been grasped with quite the innovative spirit shown by Monteverdi himself four hundred years ago.

PR8A7381_crop ORFEO - RACHEL KELLY AS PROSERPINA, CALLUM THORPE AS PLUTO (C) ROH-ROUNDHOUSE. PHOTOGRAPHER STEPHEN CUMMISKEY.pngRachel Kelly as Prosperina and Callum Thorpe as Pluto

There’s certainly nothing wrong with the up-dating; the mythological heroes of early opera certainly served the rhetoric of propaganda expounded by the courtly centres of Europe, and director Michael Boyd’s concept of the conflict between individual creativity and self-expression (Euridice and Orfeo are clothed in white, albeit increasingly besmirched and charred as the opera progresses) and a Hadean, oppressive state that quells imaginative freedom is surely topical. Dressed in grey prisoners’ jumpsuits, the nymphs and shepherds are initially manacled, their fetters released so that they may celebrate the forthcoming matrimony as ordered by a Pastor (who has dropped his bucolic ‘al’); Pluto and Proserpina are chic oligarchs, Charon has an entourage of ‘heavies’.

And, Boyd tells his story simply and clearly, while Tom Piper’s designs are straightforward and minimal - the bare, circular stage is adorned with nothing more than fluttering emerald crêpe streamers to evoke Elysium. Disappointingly prosaic perhaps, but maybe there was concern that the in-the-round acoustic might be less than helpful or flattering (as it is, modest amplification is employed), and that complexities of staging would further hinder the singers’ projection and communication?

The libretto is full of references to both singing and dancing - this was, after all, the first time that a drama had been entirely sung by its protagonists and Monteverdi and his librettist, Alessandro Striggio, were perhaps anxious to persuade a potentially sceptical audience that what they were watching was entirely credible. Thus, movement plays a big part in Boyd’s production, and the madrigals, canzoni and balletti, with their tripping, dance-like rhythms are neatly choreographed. But, other than the set-piece dances, the production is frequently under-directed: so, in place of inherent dramatic movement which explicates the relationships between the protagonists and complements the musical narrative, we have superimposed movement - contemporary dance and circus acrobatics. Certainly, the young dancers of East London Dance are talented and often wonderfully expressive: their swirling evocation of the River Styx is entrancing, and the graceful cartwheels and ebullient somersaults with which they rejoice the imminent wedding delightfully embody the freshness and joy of a pastoral paradise. But elsewhere their physical exuberance seems at odds with the musical discourse and can be distracting, both visually and aurally. For example, the dancer’s presentation of Orfeo’s grief at the news of Euridice’s death certainly suggests a tortured soul writhing in anguish, but it also overpowers the vocal expression and diverts our attention from the essence of the opera: that is, the power of musical rhetoric.

PR8A7545 ORFEO - LOWREY AS THIRD PASTOR ORENDT AS ORFEO, BEVAN AS EURIDICE, GREGORY AS FIRST PASTOR (C) ROH-ROUNDHOUSE. PHOTO STEPHEN CUMMISKEY.pngChristopher Lowrey as Third Pastor, Gyula Orendt as Orfeo, Mary Bevan as Euridice and Anthony Gregory as First Pastor

Boyd does conjure some striking visual images. In the Prologue, La Musica (Mary Bevan, who also sings the role of Euridice) is unshackled and as she begins her strophic introduction to Orfeo’s tale, the tragic protagonist (Gyula Orendt) is carried in, borne aloft like a victim of crucifixion, so that she might clasp him in her arms - thereby foreshadowing the close of the opera, when the sorrowful Orfeo cradles his ‘lost’ beloved. Similarly, the lovers’ reluctance to part so that Euridice may prepare for the wedding is suggested by the chain of hands which stretches from Orfeo at the centre of the stage along the raised entrance platform: the outstretched arms prefigure the final dramatic image of Orfeo’s futile grasping for his beloved’s lifeless hand as he is raised heavenwards.

On the whole, and fittingly, in the absence of anything more than rudimentary stage action, it is the singers who must communicate the drama, and the cast are uniformly excellent. Mary Bevan sings with control and purity, suggesting the innate grace and goodness of Euridice, while Susan Bickley as her friend Silvia (Monteverdi’s Messenger) imbues this minor role with intensity and character. Callum Thorpe’s even bass-baritone conveys Pluto’s cool self-assurance and he is ably partnered by mezzo-soprano Rachel Kelly’s gleaming Prosperpina. As Charon, James Platt uses his strong bass-baritone to suggest Charon’s menacing obduracy. Tenors Anthony Gregory and Alexander Sprague blend beautifully with Christopher Lowrey’s warm, appealing countertenor, and all three Pastors communicate the drama powerfully.

As the only non-native speaker in the cast, Hungarian baritone Orendt isn’t always successful in his enunciation of Don Paterson’s new translation which tells the story plainly, without fussy conceits and with some effective and unobtrusive use of rhyme. But, Orendt’s commitment to the role is absolute and unceasing, and he sings with ardour and directness - even when hovering upside down from a harness, demonstrating a physical litheness and strength to equal his vocal flexibility. The arioso of ‘Possente Spirto’, the spiritual centre of the opera, gradually increased in persuasive fervour and demonstrated the considerable extent of Orendt’s vocal and musical resources; it was a pity, therefore, that his lyre - embodied by the two obbligato violins whose decorations embrace Orfeo’s appeals - was not given more prominence, for the violins’ elaborate ornamentations surely encapsulate La Musica’s opening assertion that she can charm mortal hearing and thus inspire human souls to attain the sonorous harmony of heavenly concord.

The nine postgraduate singers from the Guildhall vocal department acquit themselves well as the chorus but they and the musicians of the Early Opera Company - who play superbly under the direction of Christopher Moulds - feel a little removed from the drama, nested as they are at the rear of the large circular stage.

Boyd has relied on his dancers to recreate the excitement and anticipation which must have been experienced by the members of the Accademia degli Invaghiti in February 1607, but in so doing he somewhat neglects the musico-dramatic core of the opera. The final image of the anguished Orfeo, suspended between heaven and earth, is striking and moving. But the human and spiritual love which is embodied in Monteverdi’s score has been overshadowed by the visual and the physical. One might wish that Boyd had more consistently conjured the spirit of La Musica’s opening words: ‘I am Music, who with sweet melody know how to calm every troubled heart, and now with noble anger, now with love can inflame the most frozen minds.’

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Orfeo - Gyula Orendt, Euridice/La Musica - Mary Bevan; Silvia (Messenger) - Susan Bickley, First Pastor - Anthony Gregory, Seconda Pastor/Apollo - Alexander Sprague, Third Pastor/Hope - Christopher Lowrey, Charon - James Platt, Pluto - Callum Thorpe, Proserpina - Rachel Kelly, Nymph - Susanna Hurrell; Director - Michael Boyd, Conductor - Christopher Moulds, Set Designer - Tom Piper, Lighting Designer - Jean Kalman, Sound designer - Sound Intermedia, Movement Director - Liz Ranken, Circus Director - Lina Johansson, Orchestra of the Early Opera Company, Vocal Department of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, East London Dance. Royal Opera House, Roundhouse Camden, Tuesday 13th January 2015.

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):