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

02 Oct 2019

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice: ENO, directed/choreographed by Wayne McGregor

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Sarah Tynan (Eurydice), Soraya Mafi (Love) and Alice Coote (Orpheus).

Photo credit: Donald Cooper

 

First up is Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice, in neither its 1762 Viennese nor 1774 Parisian manifestations, but rather in Hector Berlioz’s 1866 rearrangement, in which the French composer amalgamated, re-orchestrated and re-wrote the part of Orpheus for mezzo-soprano (specifically, for Pauline Viardot-Garcia).

But, in fact, what ENO really offers is not Gluck’s opera, but director-choreographer Wayne McGregor’s dance-opera. Of course, dance is integral to Gluck’s opera and aesthetic. One critic at the first performance of Orpheus praised the dancer-choreographer Gasparo Angiolini for ‘uniting choreography with the choruses and the story in such a way as to give the performance an appearance no less splendid than exemplary’. The visual aspect of the work was no less vital and the crucial in this regard was the influence of Count Durazzo - ambassador to the Viennese court, and from 1754 director of the city’s imperial theatres - in engaging not just the ballet-master Jean-Georges Noverre but also the scene-painter Giuseppe Quaglio whose designs contributed substantially to the success of Gluck and librettist Calzibigi’s opera.

Indeed, Gluck’s Orpheus is inherently classical in its fusion of the musical, linguistic, visual and gestural. The composer’s aim was not so different from that, one hundred years later, of Nietzsche and Wagner: the revival of classical Greek tragedy through a synthesis of the arts in accord with the ancient Greek’s principle of orchestique: the incorporation of dance and gymnastics into theatre. So, it’s not surprising that choreographers from Isadora Duncan to Frederick Ashton to Pina Bausch have been drawn to Gluck’s opera, aiming to visualise the music through physical movement and bodily gesture.

Wayne McGregor dancers Act 2.jpgDancers from Company Wayne McGregor. Photo credit: Donald Cooper.

Bausch conceived of three dancers’ roles to perform alongside Gluck’s characters, and McGregor nods in this direction, with two of the fourteen dancers from Studio Wayne McGregor, Jacob O’Connell and Rebecca Bassett-Graham, seeming to serve as avatars for Alice Coote’s Orpheus and Sarah Tynan’s Eurydice respectively. At times, the dancers successfully evoke the characters’ circumstances and imagined feelings - as when, upon the death of Eurydice, O’Connell is pinned to the floor by the Furies until the latter are charmed by Coote’s song and release their captive. Similarly, the final reunion of the mortals is touchingly expressed in a physical duet which embraces the singers’ bodily forms too.

ST and dancer.jpgSarah Tynan and Jacob O’Connell. Photo credit: Donald Cooper.

However, all too often the danced mimes and extended choreographic sequences do not, to my mind, bring about a union of movement and music. While McGregor’s choreography is expressive in its own right, and some of the characters’ thoughts and feelings are exteriorised through movement in a general way, there seemed to me to be little attempt to give corporeal form to the emotions and ideas that are expressed by Gluck’s musical rhythms. Moreover, McGregor seems uninterested in the singers themselves, despite song being at the heart of the materialisation of the opera’s ideological foundations. And despite having three terrific singer-actors with whom to work. There is practically no ‘direction’ of the cast, while the Chorus - in excellent voice - are consigned to the shadows. Surely, the latter’s interaction is central to the drama? They are far, far more than just a disembodied sound? By down-playing the importance of Gluck’s music and concentrating solely on the physical and the visual, McGregor undermines the very essence of the opera, shifting our attention away from the sonic beauty and power of Orpheus’s song.

Moreover, ‘visual’ here refers to light and costume. There is no ‘set’ as such, though the cavernous black hole of the ENO stage serves as a fitting representation of hell, even if it doesn’t provide much context or acoustic support for the singers. Instead, designer Lizzie Clachan relies on Jon Clark’s lighting and Ben Cullen Williams’ video projections to indicate situation and mood. So, when Eurydice dies and descends, it’s not so much to the Underworld that she is heading, rather under-water, as indicated by the projection of rippling waves above a yellow-tinted glass tank in which Eurydice is suspended in the manner of a Damien Hirst shark floating in formaldehyde. The reason for her death is also obscure: she seems to proffer her arm up willingly to the deathly syringe (snakebite?), twice, and appears to have left behind a suicide note.

Initially Louise Gray’s costumes are monochrome: Eurydice wears a bridal gown scrawled with instructions such as ‘Do not look’ (so, why does she get so upset later when Orpheus does as he’s told?); the dancers sport skull-embroidered leggings; Coote is forced to don a shapeless sack-dress graffitied with random words and phrases - ‘deprivation’, ‘tendre amour’ ‘underground’. What is the point of such redundant gimmicks?

Dance of Blessed Spirits.jpgDancers from Company Wayne McGregor. Photo credit: Donald Cooper.

The slide down to Hades is marked by an eye-blinding red-and-green light show - a sort of sonic-kinetic visualiser - and the dancers spice up their skimpy costumes with day-glow legwarmers and stripes. Were the Furies confronting Orpheus with his own sexuality? Asymmetrical clashing primary colours - and a tender pas de deux for two male dancers - mark the harmony of the Elysian Fields. Coote and Tynan are left to their own devices in the final Act, the only directorial-design ‘assistance’ being a sequence of projected squares and rectangles of analog noise: the fact that random, flickering dot-pixel patterns of static indicate a lack of transmission seemed ironically apt - they are of no relevance at all to the tragic drama to which the singers are giving voice.

Gluck Act 4.jpgSarah Tynan (Eurydice) and Alice Coote (Orpheus). Photo credit: Donald Cooper.

The three soloists coped gamely with the directorial tabula rasa. It was announced that Coote was suffering from a viral infection, but while Act 1 felt a little effortful, ‘Che farò senza Euridice’ was intensely expressive. Gluck himself remarked that ‘Nothing but a change in the mode of expression is needed to turn my aria “Che farò senza Euridice” into a dance for marionettes’, and Coote demonstrated the capacity that Gluck implies a fine singer possesses to make his apparently simple music almost painfully affecting. Sarah Tynan’s Eurydice burned with credible human emotions which were delivered with luminosity and strength. As Love, Soraya Mafi phrased Love’s guidance and entreaties with grace and silkiness.

Conductor Harry Bicket set off at a furious pace - perhaps determined by choreographic necessities? - and pushed hard throughout, seldom taking time to bring the details of Berlioz’s orchestration to the fore.

Those who want to see talented dancers perform interesting choreography will enjoy McGregor’s Orpheus and Eurydice. Those who want to hear Orpheus’s loss, rather than see it, will be less satisfied.

Claire Seymour

Orpheus - Alice Coote, Eurydice - Sarah Tynan, Love - Soraya Mafi; Director/Choreographer - Wayne McGregor, Conductor - Harry Bicket, Rehearsal Director - Odette Hughes, Set Designer - Lizzie Clachan, Costume Designer - Louise Gray, Lighting Designer - Jon Clark, Video Designer - Ben Cullen Williams, Translator - Christopher Cowell, Orchestra and Chorus of English National Opera.

English National Opera, Coliseum, London; Tuesday 1st October 2019.

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):