Orphée et Eurydice (ROH, 28 September 2015)
It was the night JDF didn’t sing, yet the house was full and the applause more than generous. It’s very late to talk about “first impressions” so I’m going to talk about my expectations.
Orphée: Michele Angelini
Eurydice: Lucy Crowe
Amour: Amanda Forsythe
Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner | English Baroque Soloists | Monteverdi Choir
Director: John Fulljames/Hofesh Shechter
Orphée is a bit of an odd work, seeing as how Gluck deliberately tried to make a musical point with it – and altered his original twice, with all three versions being viable. It starts with an inexplicably chipper overture (rehashed?), then goes into funeral mode but Act I finishes on a high note with Orphée’s hopeful L’espoir renaît dans mon âme which Gluck (randomly? and shamelessly) borrowed from Bertoni’s Tancredi. Then major angst with the descent into hell and plaintive sweetness as Orphee tames the tormented spirits. Act III starts in the modern equivalent of heaven, where all is harp-and-cloud fluffy. Then more angst when the two lovebirds meet again in not-quite-right circumstances. Finally rambling for the ballets followed by major fireworks for the finale.
I was after in this order:
- hearing this wonderful opera live for the first time
- the Monteverdi Choir
- JEG + English Baroque Soloists
- Amanda Forsythe
- who’s this Angelini chap?
This Angelini chap is a very good singer indeed, though my fave tenor Orphée remains Richard Croft and his evocative voice. Angelini was soulful and heroic enough, though, and he negotiated L’espoir renaît dans mon âme with aplomb. But this is another opera that requires very complex acting chops (abundant vocal colours) from whoever’s singing its main character and Angelini wasn’t that good in that respect.
Amour isn’t enough of a role to get a proper idea about a singer but I wouldn’t mind hearing more from Forsythe. She garnered much appreciation for her comic skills and generally strong stage presence. Hey, anyone who can rock a gold lamé catsuit is doing something right 😉
I’ve seen Lucy Crowe now a couple of times live and I don’t know that I’ll ever be a fan. It’s nice if Eurydice has a pure voice but it’s not imperative (Delunsch on the Minkowski CD sounds pretty mature). There is, however, something veiled or fluttery about Crowe’s voice that doesn’t work for me in spite of her technical accomplishments and dramatic commitment.
JEG: the mean bounciness he extracted from the orchestra exuded French-ness to my ears, no complaints there; very light and stylish.
Not only hearing one of my favourite operas live but in all appearance UNCUT. The tenor version has L’amour triomphe instead of Le dieu de Paphos et de Gnide. It’s equally as satisfying (although liberté constantly came off as liberty). The choir is pleasantly interwoven with the solo vocals but:
The main dish: hearing the Monteverdi Choir sing the many choral parts of Orphée was one of the best musical experiences of 2015 for me. Beautiful tones, expressively sung, the voices well integrated, spot on in regards to the orchestra and meshing well with it. On the spot I contemplated getting a ticket for the last performance just to hear that again. The main singer is a bargain, but along with Tito and Idomeneo this is one of those late 18th century operas where the choir alone is worth the price of admission. I now have a strong urge to make a “mix tape” featuring the choruses from these three operas but for now let’s listen to L’amour triomphe:
My seatmate half-complained that it wasn’t so much a production as a concert performance. It was spartan, indeed. But the few elements made all the sense in the world. The most obvious: located on stage, now hovering, now sunk, the orchestra was an integral part of the production (it’s an opera about the power of music, innit). I liked this continuous motion and I felt very comfy with the uncomplicated feel of the production. It was related in spirit to the Munich DVD production (the plastic chair was a central element; also the beginning and the direction of the duet was very similar), so I immediately got into it. It might look like not much but it fits Gluck’s intention of simplicity.
It took me a good while to get the choreography. But I generally don’t have an easy time feeling dance. It wasn’t immediately obvious to me what all the flailing and hand gestures were supposed to represent. I wasn’t annoyed by it all, rather indifferent. But towards the end (and after a lot of persistence from the dancers, given that there is A LOT of ballet in this opera) I came to the conclusion that it was a contemporary reading of primal movement, nymphs and fawns, things that ain’t quite human, often times quite possibly vegetal. I don’t think it matters if I’m correct or not as long as it finally spoke to me in some way.
Not the best opera night but choral heaven nonetheless and very likeable staging which I hope ROH keeps and revives at some point. It’s an opera I could easily revisit live once a year.