A rather Catholic Orfeo (Roundhouse/ROH 21 January, 2015)
The Roundhouse, not hitherto associated with opera, accommodates this modern production wonderfully. I do like the trend of staging opera in other than usual (19th century-style) opera houses and I hope it continues. It’s likely beneficial for all involved.
Though Orfeo was being broadcast, the Roundhouse was a full house yesterday. I think the tickets to this venture sold out a while ago. It’s been a while since I’ve witnessed such tremendous applause and I think some of it had to do with the more relaxed location.
Orfeo: Gyula Orendt
Music/Euridice/Echo: Mary Bevan
Silvia (Messenger): Susan Bickley
First Pastor: Anthony Gregory
Second Pastor (Apollo): Alexander Sprague
Third Pastor: Christopher Lowrey
Charon: James Platt
Proserpina: Rachel Kelly
Pluto: Callum Thorpe
Nymph: Susanna Hurrell
Conductor: Christopher Moulds
Director: Michael Boyd | Orchestra of the Early Opera Company
Watch it. Those who have not seen the webcast yet should know ROH will keep it on the ‘tube for 6 months (here). More power to ROH! May Bayerische and Wienner (and every other house who wants to push their productions) take the hint.
Oh, no, it’s in English! I don’t know about others, but I had no issues with this. Occasionally it was even a benefit, as the language is rather poetic and it’s well worth understanding it instantly.
Staging. Whilst I liked the general concept (such as it was, not exactly konzept), I admit I didn’t get the Catholic angle. Why get all specific on the divinity of light if you’re not calling Pluto Lucifer? I liked the choreography, of which there was a lot and very physical. Nymphs and shepherds, you can believe they’d be all boisterous. My favourite moments were when two of Orfeo’s buddies playfully jumped over his head. Orfeo himself had a lot of things to do, from being (energetically) cute with Euridice to reaching down to her rather dangerously from “the ropes of heaven”, also jumping from the stage into “the fires of hell”. Since you can see it for yourself, I won’t hide the fact that he slipped once 😉
The river Styx. A special word goes to “the writhing souls river Styx”, a brilliant idea, used to most effect when Orfeo loses and tries to pull Euridice back. I mentioned the Barque of Dante in my second Idomeneo review but though you might think I see it everywhere (I see dead people!), it came to mind again. The Pieta-pose you might notice at the beginning is specifically referenced, as I noticed in someone’s booklet. That ties in with the Catholic angle, but Orfeo = Jesus? Sorta kinda maybe… music as redeemer, I guess.
Unfussy. I’ve sung praises to stark productions before, so you know I’m not fussed by a lack of sets. In fact, I appreciate inventiveness and good use of existing space (as in the case of the Grimeborn Poppea, one of my favourite performances of 2014). One or two key things (such as the river Styx or the ramp) and engrossing performances from the singers should be enough to carry the thing.
One of the best things about the ramp was that it allowed the singers to sing very near to the audience, which helped both with hearing their pianissime and with seeing their commitment to character up-close, the likes of which the usual opera house setting does not allow 1. I know not everyone liked the ramp, but luckily I was sat at an ideal distance from it (10m perhaps) so I didn’t get any of the downsides. Short of singers slipping on it, I prefer ramps to stairs in opera. Plus I think it added to the “above and below” theme running through the opera.
Too somber, say some. I don’t know, it’s the story of a man who loses his wife on their wedding day. It explores human frailty, weakness and despair. The central lesson of impermanence would be right up the Buddhist alley. I thought there were enough spirited moments and not just in the beginning (Charon was rather gleeful and Orfeo appeared joyous when he retrieved Euridice).
Singing. Orfeo is one of those roles that can be sung by pretty much every voice type. Baritone works quite lovely as well. Maybe even better than “quite”. Also, this being Monteverdi, your singers – especially your star – need to be capable actors. Here’s where good diction/good vocal acting goes a long way, as there’s a lot of recit and it’s all important.
Orendt’s accent came through but I could understand most of it. His voice is full, warm and evenly produced. Though his is one of the manliest Orfeos, he conveyed a lot of sensitivity in the soft moments. He’s got quite an emotional range and an good deal of charisma. Possente spirto (All powerful spirit) came out beautifully elegant. In short, a moving performance, waterworks galore from yours truly2.
JPYA James Platt, whose performance in Messiah I greatly enjoyed last month, sang a wickedly amusing Charon, especially in the part where he tells Orfeo that, though charmed by his plea, his heart is unmovable. Can’t wait to see him again in whatever he might be in next and I wish him all the best from now on.
Though I only mentioned them, the singing in general was of high quality (especially from the two main ladies, Euridice and Proserpina (also great dress! she sounded better here than in JPYA’s Cosi)), as was the orchestra. The choir occasionally sounded a bit too blended, I’d have liked more individuality. Period trumpets are campy beasts. I think you need to go with their flow.
Organisation or lack thereof. I enjoyed The Roundhouse as a performance space and the staff was extremely helpful but the house should try to figure out a better way of getting people in and out of the venue. Queues strangled the crowd no matter which way you were going. It didn’t help the ushers either (I unknowingly made it in the stalls area and realised my mistake only later (not the right time to upgrade with mum in tow 😉 ).
In conclusion (we thought…). It’s one of those things where the whole is greater than its parts. My mum, who hasn’t attended an opera in the past 30 years, had a ball. She’s a big Monteverdi fan so no wonder but she coped really well with the staging as well. For my part I was most pleased with the atmosphere created by Orendt’s performance + the intimate feel of the venue + the simplicity of the staging. Among the “omg, it’s so moving” tears, a few drops were shed for the fact I only had tickets to this one performance.