L’Ormindo (Wanamaker Playhouse, 13 February 2015)
After quickly selling out last year, Cavalli’s L’Ormindo returned earlier this month to the Wanamaker Playhouse1. Judging by the enthusiastic applause and stomping, there is definitely a public for 17th century opera. It might not be a large one (venue capacity: 340 seats), but it’s there.
Ormindo: Samuel Boden
Amidas: Ed Lyon
Nerillus: James Laing/Rupert Enticknap
Sicle: Joelle Harvey
Eryka: Harry Nicoll
Erisbe: Susanna Hurell
Mirinda: Rachel Kelly
King Ariadenus: Graeme Broadbent
Osman: Ashley Riches
Director: Christian Cumryn | Orchestra of the Early Opera Company
How great is it to see opera in a venue that size? Very. You might not want to go back to ye olde large auditorium afterwards (for early opera in any case). You hear every pianissimo and every word. Often the singers are only a couple of feet away, mingling with the audience. Definitely renders the mic-or-no-mic question moot.
Not only is the venue built based on 17th century drawings of the Blackfriars Theatre, but a production of this sort in a hall like is probably the closest you’ll ever get to how they experienced opera back then. Excellent use was made of the venue itself as well as of the kind of tools they employed in the theatre during the 1600s. I for one got a kick out of the much maligned Bart Sher Comte Ory production they had at the Met a few years back, for the specific reason that it used period tools. But I conceed the hulking Met might have not been the best venue for this kind of approach.
Here, though, the “creepy” cave scene came off brilliantly. If you don’t know the synopsis, L’Ormindo is one of those operas that has everything from an exotic location (Fez) and long lost sons (Ormindo himself) to abandoned lovers disguised as gypsies – with a threesome thrown-in for good measure and a highjacked poisoning for extra drama. During the cave scene the spirit of the abandoned lover is “resurrected” (of course she’s not dead, this is a comedy). You can imagine that raising the dead in a cave will cause a few spectres to groan and moan, and we get a lot of that from among the audience (though not by the audience). Suffice to say, it comes off very amusing but also atmospheric – small, candle lit venue2.
The music wasn’t quite as consistently strong as in the Monteverdi operas from the same period but there were a couple of duets and ensembles that stood out. The whole thing came off very entertaining because of teamwork – the production worked, the mood fit the venue and the singers were definitely into it (complete with baring of muscular chests). Also I thought the English translation was rather fine and clever (the text is quite saucy to go with said bare chests). My favourite singing of the night came from Samuel Boden as Ormindo (particularly lovely turns of phrase) and Nerillus (for a rather personal tone; sorry to say I don’t know which one of the two countertenors billed for this role) though there were no weak links.
A rather unusual moment came right after Ormindo and Erisbe had drunk the “poison” and the candles were extinguished to simulate life fading out. For a few moments nothing happened, the singers were lying down on the floor, there was no music. I didn’t know 340 people could be so quiet! You could hear a pin drop. Somehow nobody’s phone went off, no one sneezed or coughed (no consumptives in this opera). It was wonderful.
Then everything was resolved, the young people coupled up neatly and the audience stomped in appreciation. It’s interesting to notice that these unusual locations for opera do seem to attract a younger audience (though the bulk remains over 50). Maybe it is the way to go.