Dir. Ashley Page, Cond. Kenneth Montgomery, Theatre Royal, 19th-28th February
Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice brings to the stage one of the most iconic myths of Ancient Greece. Orfeo and Euridice, a young couple, are cruelly torn apart after Euridice succumbs to the charms of Death. Heartbroken, and blessed with a voice that makes even the infamous Greek gods weep, Orfeo is given the opportunity to rescue his beloved from the Underworld. However, his task is made even more difficult when he is told that if he should look at Euridice before they both return to earth, he will lose her once more.
And so begins his journey into hell.
When describing this opera, the first word that comes to mind is ‘gentle.’ The music never touches the anger of Wagner, or the celebration of Mozart. When the lovers are together the orchestra’s notes reflects a chaste, tender and quiet love and when Orfeo sings of loss, the music draws inspiration from not the anger of grief but grief’s confusion. Great literary love affairs are normally endowed with the fiercest of emotions, yet this opera manages to produce a new twist on the telling of romances by showcasing the blunt sincerity and simplicity of love.
Another interesting twist presented in the opera is the use of dancers. Gluck’s music is showcased as dancers convey both the brutality of hell and the deceitful idleness of purgatory. Ballet blends with singing, and provides the audience with the opportunity to focus on the orchestra’s playing. Admittedly some of the dances are a touch too repetitive.
The true highlight of the opera occurs when the entire cast sings. It is as if a true harmony has been reached, as though the cast are being played as one instrument. The principal singers perform their parts well, but it is the collective effort of the whole cast that pushes the opera forward.
To conclude, it would be wrong to think of ‘Orfeo ed Euridice’ as opera’s response to ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ It is far more sophisticated for that. It is a gentle opera and because of that reflected the reality of love far more truthfully.