Orpheus

Music
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Beautifully done but nothing can bring Rossi's turgid opera to life.

The Royal Opera House returns to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in an attempt to recapture the wonder that was last year's 'L'Ormindo', a beautiful production of the exquisite early Baroque opera by Venetian master Francesco Cavalli. While much of that production's grandeur is repeated - the intimate Jacobean-style theatre lit only by candlelight, the excellent Orchestra of the Early Opera Company directed by harpsichordist Christian Curnyn, and a work from 1647 by another Italian - unfortunately, there is a reason we haven't heard of composer Luigi Rossi.

Rossi's turgid 'Orpheus' retains only the harmonic gloss of Cavalli, but none of the melodies. The story, too, concocted by his librettist Francesco Buti, is a convoluted take on the Orpheus myth, in which the famous titular musician has a rival (Aristeus) for his wife, the ill-fated Eurydice. Meanwhile, the gods - Venus, Cupid, Jove, Bacchus, Pluto and The Three Graces - each have their own agendas and meddle in the affair, with pripaic contributions from a Satyr. The result is an overcrowded stage and a befuddled plot, of which the attempted rescue of Eurydice from the Underworld is a mere sideshow rather than the climax of the tale.

This is not to say that there are not moments of invention in this period costume, English-language version. Keith Warner directs the confection with enthusiasm, utilising every possible entrance and exit to accommodate the stage traffic, with plenty of coy interaction with the audience. There is some deft choreography (it needs to be) from Karl Alfred Schreiner and Nicky Shaw's set is a minimal large table and few low benches (there is no room here to fly in scenery).

The singing, in places, is exemplary, with the trios written for The Three Graces (Lauren Fagan, Jennifer Davis and Emily Edmonds) charmingly delivered. But two stand-out roles emerge: mezzo Caitlin Hulcup is the only truly engaging character, and that she sounds uncannily like a countertenor makes her trouser role as the melancholy Aristeus all the more convincing; while the object of her character's desires, the ever-faithful Eurydice, is sung beautifully by soprano Louise Adler. Mary Bevan, suffering a throat infection, walked the role of Orpheus, with soprano Siobhan Stagg covering sweetly from the gallery.

There is no knocking the unique charm of this theatre, but with the whole of the Baroque repertoire available, the Royal Opera House might choose better material for its next incursion to this exquisite venue, albeit one with limited dynamic possibilities.

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